I’m on a kids+music kick today, I guess.
As covered by Scientific American:
In 2009, Miley Cyrus reportedly made an astonishing 25 million dollars. Most of that money came from album sales, which were reported to be slightly over 4 million during that year. Four million…Four million?! Have you heard Miley Cyrus sing? Are there really four million kids out there willing to spend their hard-earned babysitting money on a Miley Cyrus album because they deeply love listening to her sing? Well, according to the findings of a study recently published in Neuroimage, selling four million albums does not translate to having four million people like your music. The study reports that there is good reason to believe that a lot of those purchases were made out of fear — a fear well known to adolescents all over America: terror of social rejection.
The fear of social rejection is so strong in adolescents because their relationships are essential for passing on the lessons that will enable them to join adult society. In order to do this properly and efficiently, teenagers come equipped with the ability to learn fast and furiously from their peers, especially those who wield more social power — who are older or more popular. Although this system developed because it helps the teen transition to adulthood, it has proven an excellent principle upon which to base economic decisions. The popular kids dictate teen culture, and if they endorse it (Twilight, anyone?) it will sell.
Gregory S. Berns, the chair of Neuroeconomics at Emory University, and his colleagues set out to understand more about the neural and behavioral mechanics of social influence on decisions about purchasing music. The researchers’ basic question was: When people change their behavior based on social influence, is it their actual preferences that change, or simply their behavior? In order to investigate this question they designed a clever behavioral study that was amenable to being performed while participants had their brains scanned.