An fMRI brain-scanning study published earlier this year in science journal Neuron [pdf] reported that when someone was making a decision to buy something or not, the brain activity could be reliably tracked through the buying process.
Crucially, when the product was first presented, activity in the nucleus accumbens was strongest. This area is often typecast as the ‘pleasure centre’ of the brain.
Later, other areas in the brain seemed to inhibit the nucleus accumbens when other factors, such as price, were considered to override the desire to buy.
However, Baars notes that there are other interpretations of the data as the method for brain scanning, fMRI, only gives an indirect measure of brain activity.
For example, the brain activity could be equally related to attention or anxiety.
This is a typical problem with new findings in cognitive neuroscience. With potentially important findings, much later work will try and determine to what extent these other factors are involved.