A scarcity mindset alters neural processing underlying consumer decision making


Not having enough of what one needs has long been shown to have detrimental consequences for decision making. Recent work suggests that the experience of insufficient resources can create a “scarcity” mindset; increasing attention toward the scarce resource itself, but at the cost of attention for unrelated aspects. To investigate the effects of a scarcity mindset on consumer choice behavior, as well as its underlying neural mechanisms, we used an experimental manipulation to induce both a scarcity and an abundance mindset within participants and examined the effects of both mindsets on participants’ willingness to pay for familiar food items while being scanned using fMRI. Results demonstrated that a scarcity mindset affects neural mechanisms related to consumer decision making. When in a scarcity mindset compared with an abundance mindset, participants had increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, a region often implicated in valuation processes. Moreover, again compared with abundance, a scarcity mindset decreased activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area well known for its role in goal-directed choice. This effect was predominant in the group of participants who experienced scarcity following abundance, suggesting that the effects of scarcity are largest when they are compared with previous situations when resources were plentiful. More broadly, these data suggest a potential neural locus for a scarcity mindset and demonstrate how these changes in brain activity might underlie goal-directed decision making.

Reference Huijsmans, I., Ma, I., Micheli, L., Civai, C., Stallen, M., & Sanfey, A. G. (2019). A scarcity mindset alters neural processing underlying consumer decision making. PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 116(24), 11699-11704. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1818572116
11 June 2019

Publication date

Jun 2019


Inge Huijsmans
Ili Ma
Leticia Micheli
Claudia Civai
Alan G. Sanfey

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