Saturday, February 20, 2010

Price of everything, value of nothing ?

Notwithstanding the Agriculture and Civil Supplies Minister and his veiled warnings about price rise, we middle class types who shop locally at various vegetable stalls, continue to practice the fine art of bargaining and haggling. Of course, some slightly more advanced evolved types have this quality missing, but like everything else we can always attribute it to say, Darwin or global warming.

The whole exercise is all about looking at some vegetables, touching/feeling/breaking(beans) for freshness, and then deciding what you think is a good affordable price that you will pay , say, per kilogram. During this time, the vendor is surreptitiously multitasking, completing monetary transactions, keeping one eye on you, and simultaneously thinking about what price he can get away with where you are concerned.

I used to think this was a way of life.

Turns out that this was actually a trigger for some hi-fi research.

Some guys at Duke University's Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, are doing research on how people see things, and ascertain the "worth" of what they see. And clearly, they did not have my vegetable vendor, and the price of fresh green peas in mind.

In what could be the world's first instance of using MCP (Male Chauvinistic Protocols), in their experiments, a bunch of chaps were shown 2 sets of pictures. One set was beautiful faces of women, and the other was pictures of money. They did MRI's to study the brain reactions and asked the participants if they'd pay more or less money to look at faces that were, respectively, more or less attractive.

As reported:

"During the fMRI experiment, heterosexual men viewed a set of female faces that had previously been rated for attractiveness by peers. Interspersed with the face pictures were pictures of money, shown in several denominations, which indicated real monetary gains or losses that the participant could later spend during the next phase of the experiment.

The participants made a series of economic decisions: Should they spend more of their money to see a more attractive face, or spend less money but see a less attractive face? Each participant made about one hundred of these decisions, spending from one to 12 cents each time.

Turns out that when we look at something, the brain does two things .

One part in the frontal cortex, just literally lights up and enjoys the experience. Another part of the frontal cortex basically decides the "worth" of that experience. Basically says, that such and such a face, evokes this value response; similar faces will evoke possibly the same response, but a more exciting/beautiful face may again evoke a different value response. You can guess, which parts of the fellows brains lit up when what was shown.

All this has a huge bearing for the marketing of goods to the consumer.

Think of all the funding used in this, which could have been used for, say, water resources, droughts, building shelters for those having none etc etc. Why ?

We have exponents who exploit and have known this theory, in droves, in our country.

Ministers, folks in high places, are very careful of who they meet. Frequently, the reputation of their visitors precedes their visitors. Any prosperous looking visitor who comes to see them, probably generates furious lightening in their (minister's) frontal cortex , as it were. Several parts light up in MRI's , simply thrilled about the possibilities of " easy acquisitions".

Simultaneously, sidey/posterior parts of the frontal cortex, get into a desperate calculation, figuring out , what the visitor could be expected to shell out. The eyes , of course, also light up; outside , as well as in brain regions controlling sight, and that's why we see so many powerful types wearing sunglasses and glares in daily life.

Then there is also the theory of brain-lighting-by-induction. The Duke fellows don't know about it. It is universally acknowledged , that those in the vicinity of folks who have these smart sidey/posterior cortexes, also develop, by evolution, and induction, some very sharp neurons of their own. The poor visitors , coming to explain their problems and seeking a solution, are completely aware of this, and get properly fleeced.

But I digress. I was talking about the vegetable vendor.

Its best to know one's level, in life and society.

Yes, the tomatoes looked good, and the capsicums too. Peas were supposed to be in season, so maybe I could check those? I look at some French beans and try breaking one to test its tender age. Of course I cannot ignore the cauliflowers.

I look up . At the vegetable vendor. He sizes me up. I ponder about the price. I am sure the sidey/posterior part of my cortex has hit upon a Rs 15 per kilogram rate, despite the fact that the other main part is thrilled about the freshness of the peas. The offer is made.

He packs someone else's carrots, hands them over, and looks at me. Half a smile on his face. he shakes his head. Maybe his sidey/posterior value-cortex rattles.

A LIGHT goes ON to his left, somewhere behind.

"20 Rs a kilo. But if you buy two kilos, you can pay me 32."

I am simply amazed. Maybe the theory of stuff lighting up works. Maybe the thing on his left was the sidey/posterior cortex.

I buy the two kilos. As I stuff the veggies into my cloth bag, I see a large figure in a sari, rising behind the vegetable stall. Its the vendor's wife.

"I can't see the coriander down there. So I thought I'd put on the bulb a bit early this evening, and finish cleaning the coriander leaves...."

I mean, I know we invented zero, and were way ahead of the world ,in astronomy and things in ancient days. I know Obama is worried about us producing more engineers and scientists than them.

But a lifestyle depicting frontal cortex lighting rules ? Regardless of level of social strata ? Maybe the Duke fellows should factor that in.


  1. You are amazing! How do you link all these things together? Just amazing...

  2. I didn't know of the study, interesting to read. Wonder if they will also do the same experiment with a woman's reaction to money and men. Lol.

  3. :) I've been smiling, maybe some part of my frontal cortex of the brain is sizing up as to smile more reading what u have just written...


  4. The bulb glowing in different parts of the brain got me thinking with a smile in the face. A twinkle in his left eye...would perhaps mean the left side was lit well...! And vice verca !

    I dont wonder much when the missus calls me a tube light often. Perhaps she sees the flicker effect well.

  5. The art of bargaining is just
    being revived here in the states. I actually saw a news story on tv the other night about how to haggle.

    Another research project was to determine the effect of beauty on those perceiving the person and what kind of a person that indiviual might be like. It was found that if someone is very beautiful they were perceived as being good. That also would figure into bargaining on some level.

  6. I'm afraid I would be terrible at bargaining!! Since it has only recently been revived, I've never even considered it! Interesting to think about now. Oh, just noticed the Clearwire badge in your side bar -- my son works for Clearwire. Interesting! Hope the rest of your weekend is wonderful!


  7. 'I know Obama is worried about us producing more engineers and scientists than them.'

    Why should he?He pays a price and our brilliant minds land at his doorstep.and you know, i bargained and bought stuff for my cousins who had a language problem. i actually bargained and made them pay more for a leather bag that a friend bought for 25 rupees less. we had made the purchase before meeting the friend. My cousins went back with her and bought three more so that the average worked to their favor. Who gained in the entire dealing?
    My head reels.......

  8. Haha. I think my frontal cortex bulbs are all fused out because I am totally zero at bargaining and like Hipgran I normally end up paying more than what they are worth.
    Sometimes I go to a stall where someone else is bargaining for the stuff I want in the hope of piggy backing on her bargaining skills. It is a fine art of course.

  9. The money spent on marketing..ugghh!

    I feel at a disadvantage in bartering countries (and there are many around the world) because it is a skill we don't learn in the US. It makes us uncomfortable to not know the exact price. Why is that? Maybe you could write a post about it;)

    I read your interview, and you are a fascinating woman who is not letting one minute of life pass her by!

  10. hehe..this was such a delight for all the sides of cortexes in my head..haha..and personally, i cringe from bargaining..but have got into the habit to 'save' the itsy bitsy money that i earn..loved the way you linked all of this! :) :)

  11. Amazing manner in which the post has been written. Frontal cortex indeed!

  12. ramblingsbybones Thank you.

    Aleta Actually, that thought had struck me too, and would have made for a nice sarcastic blog post , maybe....

    PNA Thank You....

    Kavi Divali in the Brain ? Cortex Shining ? The mind simply boggles ...:-)

    Amber Star Actually bargaining cannot be taught. It has to be totally learned on the job...

    Sylvia Bargaining isnt a fashion, to be able to be revived. It is actually a way of life, where you are convinced that you are being overcharged.... I dont know that the US is a good place to bargain. But do say Hi to your son at Clearwire - I did see his nice photograph with you in a ferry ! so I know who I am wishing ....

    Hip Grandma I guess you win some and you lose some, but must profit in the final accounting. Thats what bargaining ends up being ....

    Usha Actually we've been bargaining long before these scientific types brought in the frontal cortex. I am , however convinced, that as Indians we have a more advanced frontal cortex.:-) If they only looked ....

    Lou Thank you for the kind words about the interview. They now even have part 2. About the bargaining and the US, I guess ordinary citizens are not into it, everything is so orderly everywhere compared to here. I suspect a lot of bargaining does happen at high political levels, particularly where arms and ammunition happens...

    HW Oh my ! Thank you!

    quaintkal Aha ! Cortex khush hua ! One actually needs a bit of bravado to bargain. Never worry about what people think. You are paying, not they....:-)

    radha Very often I feel that so many things that are taken for granted and follwed by us for years, are being formalized as research by these folks. Never mind. Someone has to document, and we are terrible at it, I guess.

    Like, Uska Cortex, mere cortex se bhala kyon? :-)