Sunday, November 16, 2008

Massages and Money

More fascinating stuff about the Moral Molecule, also relevant to Cambodia--land of USD5 an hour massages. [Personally, I like Blue7 here in Siem Reap, where competition has driven the prices down to USD4 an hour. In Phnom Penh, Kerri and I go to Dai Prom Shop, near the Russian Market, for USD3 (!) an hour for a traditional Khmer massage where you get twisted like a pretzel).

Anyway, back to our story. Our neuroeconomist hero Paul J. Zak now wants to test if getting a massage makes people more likely to sacrifice money to help another person and if so, why?

Previous research by his team found that "monetary transfers denoting trust" caused the brain to release oxytocin. Zak's lab even showed "a positive relationship between the amount of oxytocin released and the amount people choose to return to the person who trusted them-even though they were under no obligation to do so."

With the massage, THOMAS (The Human Oxytocin Mediated Attachment System) was on steroids. "Those who were massaged and trusted sacrificed 243% more money to the person who trusted them compared to those who were trusted but not massaged. And the change in blood levels of oxytocin strongly predicted this behavior."

The experiment also found women to be more affected by touch: they had larger changes in oxytocin and sacrificed more money to those who trusted them.

So, if you are the owner of a massage centre in Cambodia, you may want to add a tip box or even a charity donation box (on second thoughts, scratch the latter, this being SCAMbodia!). And of course, you'd want to target the more susceptible women customers.

You can find details of Zak's fascinating experiments here.

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