The erotics of investing

by on April 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm in Economics | Permalink

When young men were shown erotic pictures, they were more likely to
make a larger financial gamble than if they were shown a picture of
something scary, such as a snake, or something neutral, such as a
stapler, university researchers reported.

The arousing pictures lit up the same part of the brain that lights up when financial risks are taken.

…The study conforms with recent research that indicates men shown a
pornographic movie were more likely to make riskier sexual decisions.
Another suggests straight men think less about their financial future
after being shown pictures of pretty women.

Here is more.  One question — and perhaps a more direct test of the hypothesis — is whether traders in more sexually integrated firms do in fact behave differently.  Or how about companies located next to modeling agencies?  I suspect in real social settings the effect washes out, for reasons identified by Freud (among others) some time ago.  The more literally minded among us might also question whether a stapler is in fact a neutral image.  It isn’t for me.

1 David Zetland April 6, 2008 at 1:45 pm

Tyler, Both of your examples are different from the experiment because men in firms and next to modeling agencies are around the same women for a long time. They get used to the idea that no sex is on offer and … go out to the bars. A big part of the mating game is the initial surge (so to speak) of interest in that other person, the ultimate person, the partner in making babies. Men take those risks because the reward is higher. If men know the women in the firm and that risk is not going to mean anything, they revert to baseline risk-taking, which is still higher in men. Note the interesting corollary: Incest is biologically/psychologically unattractive if you have lived with the person all your life, but happens more often if you meet a sibling (e.g., cousin) for the first time after reaching sexual maturity.

2 Anonymous April 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Is it a red Swingline stapler?

3 Rachel April 6, 2008 at 3:24 pm

I’ll second Lemmus on that.

4 Peter April 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I sure hope no taxpayer money was used to fund this study.

5 BT April 6, 2008 at 3:37 pm

A staple remover would have been a nice control image.

6 bobvis April 6, 2008 at 4:32 pm

The more literally minded among us might also question whether a stapler is in fact a neutral image. It isn’t for me.

Am I the only one who is puzzled by this comment? Should I be disturbed?


7 mikesdak April 6, 2008 at 4:40 pm

I see this as another extension of the basic advertising saying “sex sells”, as well as the old joke “God gave men a penis and a brain, but not enough blood to operate both effectively at the same time”.

8 axel molotov April 6, 2008 at 4:54 pm

“straight men think less about their financial future after being shown pictures of pretty women”

Is it any wonder that many men spend their life savings in strip clubs? Or on a lesser scale, a large chunk of their paycheck on buying pretty women drinks?

9 stan April 6, 2008 at 6:37 pm

I think Tim Harford would argue that this effect would disappear if you tested experienced traders, and not 15 (likely undergraduate) students at Stanford.

10 Ron Hardin April 6, 2008 at 9:16 pm

The effect was covered in the NYT by John Tierney long ago

11 aj April 7, 2008 at 1:56 am

i think i understand why vegas has so many strip clubs , churches and casinos… all on the same strip….

12 shawn April 7, 2008 at 10:22 am

“no honey…I only bought it for research purposes! I swear!”

13 Tyler Cowen April 7, 2008 at 11:26 am

When I think of staplers, I think of receiving gifts. I think of papers rolling off a printer, and being stapled, and being given to me. In stapled form. For me a stapler is a very positive image.

14 NPTO April 7, 2008 at 3:06 pm

Tyler, please tell me you think a stapler is scary. And, since you are practically begging us to ask,alright, there it goes, what’s with the Freud reference?

I agree with David Zetland, erotic images are different from constant exposure to women (even really pretty women) you see everyday, as far as their arousing effects are concerned.

15 pierce wetter April 7, 2008 at 5:52 pm

man see woman. Man want to have sex with woman. How man have sex with woman? Man need money. Man need lots money. Where man get money?

Man make risky investment. It pay off, man have bucks, get some. It no pay off, man no get off.

Man make less risky investment, it pay off, man have cents. Man no get off.

Risky investment better. Safe investment no lead to nookie.

Sometimes I think you economists overthink things too much. Even a caveman could figure out why a risky investment is better after seeing a naked woman.

16 eve isk January 2, 2009 at 1:21 am

Welcome to our company which sells all kinds of eve isk.

17 jim May 15, 2009 at 10:51 pm

It is enlightening!

18 chachagirl February 21, 2011 at 2:10 am

This article is very relevant for old saying: “Do not mix business with pleasure”, that of course if you don’t work as an Amsterdam escort as I do… Then you can do that without any major financial risks:))

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