July 16, 2010

If the shoe fits, think about it

The sight of a celebrity wearing a particular pair of heels causes  an increase in brain activity for women, a recent study concluded.

A pair of unique heels worn by pop singer Lady Gaga

“The results of our study are consistent with the general finding that celebrities are more effective endorsers than non-famous individuals,” the study reported.

The Dutch researchers, led by Mirre Stallen from the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, examined 20 women, all in their mid-20s.  The participants were paid $32 to look at forty photographs of famous and non-famous women and 480 photographs of shoes.  The study, “Celebrities and Shoes on the Female Brain: The Neural Correlates of Product Evaluation in the Context of Fame,” was published April in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

“Choosing shoes as products was optimal for two reasons,” the study reported.  “First, they are present in a large variety in an everyday shopping context. This is important to prevent any effects due to specific outlying items.”

“Second, as women in general (and not celebrities only) are regarded to be experienced users of shoes, the presentation of shoes as products should prevent any confounding effects of expertise on the fame manipulation.”

Former first lady Imelda Marcos had her share of shoes

The researchers recorded the brain activity of the participants with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.  As the women were being scanned, they were also shown photographs of different products, and images of famous and non-famous women.  The results showed an increase in activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is in the frontal lobes of the brain and involves value reinforcement and decision-making.

“The enhanced memory performance for items that were encoded in the context of a famous individual can neither be explained by increased attractiveness of the celebrity nor by a higher level of perceived expertise, but only by the persuasiveness of fame itself.”

The study added: “We only found activity in a reward-related region, the medial orbitofrontal cortex, during the presentation of a famous face together with an object. The medial orbitofrontal cortex was not activated during the presentation of a famous face alone, which suggests that the medial orbitofrontal cortex did not encode the positive affect associated with the retrieval of implicit memories related to a famous face, but instead represented the learning of associations between an initially neutral product and a positively valenced face.”

A rainbow of shoes

The researchers also looked into whether the participants would purchase shoes based on the celebrity and non-celebrity photos.  “Although fame did not affect the purchase intention of all shoes presented, fame did affect the purchase intention if shoes were categorized based on the responses that were given in the orientation task during scanning.”

“Shoes of which subjects indicated they were not owned, received higher purchase intentions if they were presented together with a celebrity than when they were shown with a non-famous female.”

Lemery Reyes/Newsdesk

VIDEO:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXSlUAS2MNw

CITATIONS:

Celebrities and Shoes on the Female Brain: The Neural Correlates of Product Evaluation in the Context of Fame (full study)

Journal of Economic Psychology

Orbitofrontal cortex

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner

Mirre Stallen

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