We are taught not to judge a book by its cover. But studies of brain seem to suggest that this is exactly what we do in our everyday life; our default cognitive system is configured to choose novel things over the old ones and beautiful things over plain-looking ones.
Bianca Wittmann, a British neuroscientist, scanned the brains of 20 video game players while they played a game in which the goal was to accumulate money. In each trial of the game, four pictures were presented to the participants, with each featuring a different mountain view. The participants were then asked to choose one picture. After the game had gone on for a while, the participants would realize that one of the four pictures, if chosen, would grant the participants a cash payoff. Wittmann observed that every time the participants selected an image that would lead to a monetary reward, the neurons or brain cells in a region in their brain called “the striatum”—known to process feelings of pleasure and reward—were activated in anticipation of their cash prize. At one point of the game, Wittmann added new pictures of similar mountain views to each trial. Interestingly, instead of choosing the “old” images that would grant them the cash reward, the participants, including the known moneymakers, chose the novel images over the old ones nearly in all cases. Furthermore, the neurons in the striatum were activated as they chose the novel images.
According to Wittmann, this means that the participants treated these novel images with the same degree of excitement, suggesting that our desire to explore new experiences and things perks up the reward system of our brains. So, what is the implication of this finding for marketers of a given product? Well, marketers may be able to bolster the sales of the product simply by repackaging it. Wittmann also warned marketers that although novelty may temporarily boost the sales, they would go down once the customers learn that nothing but the packaging has changed.