You Can Actually See Coolness In The Brain


For many people, the perception of what is ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’ differs vastly.

Some clothing combinations will be cool to some people and just barely pass muster with others and two neuroscientists have shown that we can actually see coolness in our brains.

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Despite the elusiveness of a complete categorization of cool, the way that we all experience it stems from some very specific places and because coolness can be influenced and can in turn influence a good number of things, it is helpful to understand a little of the science behind it.

A nod of approval from your peers can make you begin to perceive something as cool and the fact that something is branded cool can influence your desire to go get it.

see coolness

Two neuroscience researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Steven Quartz, and Anette Asp have run fMRI studies on the brains of people looking at items that a separate group identified as “cool” or “uncool.”

They found that just viewing these objects activated a part of the subjects’ brains called the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC).

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This part of the brain is involved in social emotions, ranging from pride to embarrassment, and as such, they control how we perceive ourselves and believe others perceive us, and it has strong ties to the brain’s reward and disgust circuits.

They document these findings on how our brains see coolness in depth in their bookHow the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World. Basically, they show how the fact that we can see cool affects our consumption patterns.

The ‘cooler’ one of the subjects found a product to be, the more active the MPFC became. They postulate that the subjects’ brains were responding to how they thought the product might boost their esteem in the eyes of others.

see coolness

They write;

“Cool turns out to be a strange kind of economic value that our brains see in products that enhance our social image…It’s a powerful quality: This abstract good—social approval, reputation, esteem, or status—plays a central role in our motivation and behavior, and it is the currency that drives much of our economy and our consumption.”

The fact that your brain can see coolness and is active in attributing it to esteem and social approval is influencing what you are buying or what you are not buying, most of the time.