Ever seen a man drool over the purr of a Porsche?
Research has now confirmed it: People will literally salivate over sports cars and money, says a new study that suggests our mouths water well beyond the moments when we're hungering for food.
Forget dollar signs in the eyes: "The motivation to acquire non-biological rewards might resemble a visceral, hunger-like process more closely than previously assumed," writes David Gal, study author and assistant professor of marketing
at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Prof. Gal had participants put cotton dental rolls in their mouths. To measure the amount of saliva that had accumulated, he weighed these rolls before and after exposing the participants to different stimuli.
One experiment involved 169 undergraduates looking at photos of money. Before the viewing, Prof. Gal asked them to recall a time when they felt they'd either gained or lost power in their lives.
"Participants salivated to money, but only when they were in a low-power state," Prof. Gal said in a release.
In a second experiment, Prof. Gal asked 97 undergraduate men to take in photos of high-end sports cars.
"The experiment focused on the responses of men, given men's known penchant for the aesthetic and status-signaling qualities of cars," Prof. Gal explained in the study.
Research has also shown that men seeking to impress women will make conspicuous luxury purchases, so Prof. Gal gave some of the men a "mating goal." He showed them photos of three attractive women, asked them to pick one and then had them imagine an ideal date scenario.
A control group was told to pick a barber and imagine a haircut instead. Men contemplating hot wheels and women salivated "significantly" more than the guys thinking about barbers.
Prof. Gal said all objects of desire – be it cupcakes, Benjamins or Beemers – launch the brain's reward system, with salivation being a symptom.
He hopes future research into the Pavlovian-like correlation will shed light on a range of consumption behaviours, from investing to gambling.
So what makes you drool?