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Simple pleasures: Brainwaves show finding £10 fits the bill

Finding £10 generated the highest level of pleasure among participants in a series of experiments

Finding £10 generated the highest level of pleasure among participants in a series of experiments, according to a study involving a Birkbeck neuroscientist. The brainwaves of 80 volunteers were recorded while they were engaged in different activities to produce a pleasure scale.

A surprise £10 windfall generated the best result, while listening to the violin played badly was one of the most unpleasant experiences. PhD student Mervyn Etienne, of Birkbeck’s Department of Psychological Sciences, helped design and monitor the experiments, which used EEG (electroencephalography) technology to measure activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. He said: “It was a really interesting study – an objective assessment of how pleasurable experiences can be measured. Finding money and stroking pets showed increased activity in the left-hand side of the brain – a sign of happiness.”

Pleasurable and unpleasurable activities

Readings were taken from mobile headsets worn by volunteers to develop a scale of pleasurable and unpleasurable everyday experiences. The good fortune of finding £10 was associated with the highest average score of 82.9 (out of 100), playing with puppies scored 67.5, eating chocolate 65, and looking at pictures of smiling babies 50.9. At the other end of the scale, looking at images of rotten teeth and crying babies scored -38.4, and the sound of a violin being played badly -55.7.

The findings were released on ‘Blue Monday’ – the third Monday in January and traditionally the most depressing day of the year. The study was commissioned by chocolate brand Beyond Dark.

Positive thinking

Etienne explained how cognitive behavioural therapy can help to boost one’s mood. He added: “If you recall positive images or experiences you can re-create that happy state of mind. You can start to break circuits of negativity. Using lightweight EEG technology, such as the Brainband, allows you to have greater awareness and control over mental and emotional activity and can supplement traditional cognitive behavioural techniques.”

Etienne’s PhD in Psychology focuses on applied cognitive and affective neuroscience.

Watch the experiments

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