Why We Like New Stuff (The science is in!)

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Believe it or not, a new study of "novelty-related decision making" in adults shows that our brains are actually hard-wired to prefer novelty and adventure. It's true! In fact, research on the ventral striatum (the part of the brain associated with rewarding behavior) seems to indicate that sating our sense of adventure provides us the same sort of satisfaction we get from sex and food.

The subjects of the University College London study were shown 4 cards and were asked to choose one while their brains were scanned with a functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI). One of the four cards had a monetary reward. When the subject chose the money making card, his brain's ventral striatum (or pleasure processor) lit up. New cards were introduced over time, and as they were, the subjects tended to choose the new cards instead of the known money-making card. The conclusion? Humans choose novelty over known rewards thinking that new cards will pay out with a higher reward. Novelty, it seems, drives choice behavior.

Researchers also suspect that dopamine is contributing to our love for the novel.

Evidence suggests that the hormone may be released when a novel choice is made. And since dopamine is responsible for making us feel oh-so good when eating delicious food, and during sex, it makes sense that we'd seek out and repeat any behavior that releases it.

Oddly enough, the study concludes that this may be a downside, because it "introduces the danger of being sold old wine in a new skin." Marketers often utilize consumers' tendencies to choose unfamiliar or novel products (think New Coke, or Starbucks' new Pike's Place Roast).

Another study, however, shows the opposite, concluding that the brain responds better to known brand names. In this study, twenty adult subjects were shown images of familiar and unfamiliar brands while brain activity was monitored. The results showed strong brands activated a network of cortical areas associated with emotions and rewards, and were processed with less effort than were unknown brands.

So, what's the learning from all of this? Basically, that it's important for a company who is creating a new product or logo to make it look new but still maintain the familiar brand association. Whether or not Walmart's new logo is doing the trick for cautious thrill seekers, you guys can decide.

Learn more about what Diana learned today, here.

July 16, 2008 - 6:08am
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