As well as hurting your wallet, your brain expects an expensive product to cause you pain too. Researchers have found that in terms of brain activity, whether or not we choose to make a purchase is reflected in a trade-off between regions of the brain involved in anticipating pain and pleasure.
When looking at a product, activity in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward centre, was associated with subsequent self-reported product preference and also predicted a purchase. Meanwhile, during presentation of the price, activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area involved in weighing up relative gains and losses, also predicted a subsequent purchase, and was related to how much smaller the actual price was than the price a participant reported being prepared to pay. Finally, also during the price presentation, increased activity in the insula, a region involved in anticipating physical pain, predicted a decision not to purchase the product.