Dread lights up like pain in your brain, the New Scientist reports:
The feeling of dread lights up the parts of the brain linked with pain, making the experience so uncomfortable that people choose to end the wait for an unpleasant experience sooner, even if it means incurring a penalty. The new study suggests that traditional economic models may not fully reflect people’s behaviour.
The experiments involved 32 volunteers who agreed to have painful electric shocks delivered to their feet. While this occurred, Gregory Berns of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, US, and his colleagues measured their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
During the first phase of the experiment, the researchers delivered 96 shocks and varied the waiting time before each shock and its intensity. In the second part, volunteers were given the choice to wait for each shock, or to get it over with sooner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of participants (84%) preferred to get the electric shocks over with quickly rather than endure the delays. But 28% of the subjects dreaded the delays so much that they were willing to endure stronger shocks simply to avoid the wait.
I bet there would be some startling similarities if this study was reproduced with 30-second television commercials in place of the electric shocks. The full story is here.