Feel sorry for the elderly - it really hurts to get rid of stuff

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2008, 12:00am

It hurts to sell your stuff, and several psychologists have proven why that is so. When you sell or give away something you are attached to, a part of your brain called the insula, which shapes our experience of pain, lights up. And the more attached we are to the object, the greater the activity recorded in the insula when we are parting with it.

Psychologists led by Brian Knutson at Stanford University, California, believe we have an innate loss aversion and the team has now run experiments during which the subjects' brains are monitored by magnetic resonance imaging scanners.

The volunteers were given various items and cash to buy them from each other. Items that were bought at a lower price, the researchers found, would only be sold at a much higher price.

Most people might be inclined to think this is just greed. But if this is the case, then the areas of the brain called the nucleus accumbus - usually associated with transactions like buying and selling - should experience heightened activities. Yet, when Professor Knutson's team scanned the brain, they found it was the insula that primarily responded. Whether buying or selling, the activation in the nucleus accumbus looked the same, the research team found.

So, places like eBay may be a vale of tears. And next time you see your elderly neighbour stuffing her tiny flat with useless bric-a-brac, have a little sympathy. It really hurts her to try to get rid of it all.