The shopping brain: Math anxiety modulates brain responses to buying decisions

William J. Jones, Terry L. Childers, Yang Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Metacognitive theories propose that consumers track fluency feelings when buying, which may have biological underpinnings. We explored this using event-related potential (ERP) measures as twenty high-math anxiety (High MA) and nineteen low-math anxiety (Low MA) consumers made buying decisions for promoted (e.g., 15% discount) and non-promoted products. When evaluating prices, ERP correlates of higher perceptual and conceptual fluency were associated with buys, however only for High MA females under no promotions. In contrast, High MA females and Low MA males demonstrated greater FN400 amplitude, associated with enhanced conceptual processing, to prices of buys relative to non-buys under promotions. Concurrent late positive component (LPC) differences under no promotions suggest discrepant retrieval processes during price evaluations between consumer groups. When making decisions to buy or not, larger (smaller) P3, sensitive to outcome responses in the brain, was associated with buying for High MA females (Low MA females) under promotions, an effect also present for males under no promotions. Thus, P3 indexed decisions to buy differently between anxiety groups, but only for promoted items among females and for no promotions among males. Our findings indicate that perceptual and conceptual processes interact with anxiety and gender to modulate brain responses during consumer choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Consumer psychology
  • Decision-making
  • FN400
  • Math anxiety
  • Neuromarketing
  • P3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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