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Social Brains

December 11, 2007

A new brain study shows that comparing your own financial situation to someone else’s can affect your well-being.


Money on the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Keeping up with the Joneses can be hard to do. But it turns out that our perceptions of how we’re doing compared to others can also affect our well-being. In a recent experiment, German researchers found that a region of the brain called the ventral striatum becomes very active when people perceive that they are earning more money than others for equal work. This brain area is associated with pleasure and reward, and also with our sense of well-being. Economist Armin Falk, of the University of Bonn explains.

ARMIN FALK (University of Bonn):
What we show for the first time is that there’s an immediate brain response to social comparison processes. People not only care about what they get themselves, but it seems to be equally important what they get relative to another person.

Understanding the mental rewards of social comparisons could have important implications for economic policy. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.