March 15, 2021Blog Posts

MIT study: Paying with credit cards activates your brain to create ‘purchase cravings’ for more spending


Using credit cards stimulates the brain’s reward system and an urge for further spending, according to a recent study from MIT that examined the neuroscience of buying things.

Credit card shopping tells us to “step on the gas” and leads to more “purchase cravings” in the future, Drazen Prelec, study author and professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said in a release.

Previous research has shown that people tend to spend more when paying with a credit card versus cash. For this new study, researchers used MRI machines to see what’s happening in the brain when people are prompted to buy an item with cash or a credit card.

While inside the MRI, participants were shown various items on a screen, from video games to beauty products, that they could add to their shopping cart. They had the option to pay for the products with $50 cash or a credit card.

People were more willing to buy more expensive items with credit than cash and spent more overall when using a credit card, the study authors wrote.


The hype train for buy now, pay later (BNPL) continues to pick up steam as consumers seek shopping alternatives during the pandemic – could this emerging payment option be a credit card killer?

While flexible payments are something that all generations can get behind, younger consumers in particular are drawn toward simple payment processes and behavioral shifts away from traditional credit cards.

As a way to better understand usage, experiences, and trust surrounding BNPL, The Strawhecker Group (TSG) surveyed over 1,500 U.S. consumers in February. Check out some highlights below and download the infographic to get a better understanding of why consumers are choosing BNPL.

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