In by far the most cases, people take unconscious and unplanned decisions, research into the actions of the "rational human being" has shown. It appears that financial decisions, too, are seldom rational but rather habitual or emotional.
New research by DNB shows that this also holds true for the choice made by consumers for a particular payment instrument at the cash desk. We just do not really think about our payment behaviour. In addition, the choices made at the till can only be marginally influenced.
In a virtual-reality study, DNB investigated to what extent various manipulations had an effect on the use of a particular payment method. Of these, increasing or decreasing the available budget or charging for debit card payments had the most effect, but their impact was nevertheless also limited.
In addition, a neuroscientific study was carried out, in which an fMRI scanner "looked" directly into the consumer's brain as payment decisions were being made or information was being processed. This brain activity was subsequently translated into emotions and learned behaviour. Neuroscience is a relatively new scientific field and although there is still much to learn about the working of the brain, many promising results have been achieved so far, in particular in the area of neuromarketing. Neuroscientific research complements existing qualitative research, which generally focuses on "the rational decider" and is based on questionnaires. This additional research is useful because there is a discrepancy between what people say or think they will do and what they actually do.
On balance, paying cash activates more positive emotions than paying by debit card, the brain study revealed. Positive emotions such as lust, desire, trust and value were compared against negative emotions such as fear, anger, loathing and danger. The figure shows that for payments in cash the balance of the emotions measured is more positive than that for payments by debit card.
The study has also shown that people who pay cash mainly do so out of habit. For people who pay by debit card this is less so. This was examined by first asking people to perform a simple task over and over again, i.e. keying in four digits, and subsequently measuring the corresponding brain activity. When people have to key in a new series, the brain activity is different, because in that case it relates to new, learned behaviour.
From the brain study it appears that cash payments are more strongly associated with positive emotions and form more of a habit than debit card usage. This seems to be in line with the fact that the majority of purchases at points of sale are paid in cash.