Not once in the original edition of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, which was published in 1981, was the word “brain” mentioned. Certainly, the “mind” was invoked several times to discuss the psychological aspects involved in negotiation. The absence of the “brain” is to be expected, as neuroscience didn’t reveal insights into negotiation and money usage until the mid 2000s, after functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was introduced a decade before.
But as one prominent neuroscientist put it, “MRIs are a game-changer.” For example, researchers in one study could predict whether participants would choose to buy stocks or a bond by looking at their brain scans. Participants who chose stocks, the riskier investment, had more activation in their nucleus accumbens, a section located deep within the brain that’s part of our reward circuitry and plays a role in processing motivations and emotions.
Part of the reason such results are so easy to see is that nothing excites the brain quite like money.
When you’re negotiating about money, for instance you’re dealing with something that elicits tremendous neural excitement. In one study, a team of researchers scanned the brains of a dozen people while they played a game in which they could make or lose money. The scans revealed the nucleus accumbens had heightened neural activity. The researchers then compared the brain scans of the participants who were about to make money with drug addicts high on cocaine. The results were startling: the brain scans were nearly identical.
“We very quickly found out that nothing had an effect on people like money – not naked bodies, nor corpses. It got people riled up. Like food provides motivation for dogs, money provides it for people,” says Dr. Brian Knutson, one of the researchers, and an expert who has published many works on the neuroscience of financial decision-making.