Social considerations significantly influence daily purchase decisions, and the perception of social risk (i.e., the anticipated disapproval of others) is crucial in dissuading consumers from making purchases. However, the neural basis for consumers' perception of social risk remains undiscovered, and this novel study clarifies the relevant neural processes. A total of 26 volunteers were scanned while they evaluated purchase intention of products (purchase intention task) and their anticipation of others' disapproval for possessing a product (social risk task), using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The fMRI data from the purchase intention task was used to identify the brain region associated with perception of social risk during purchase decision making by using subjective social risk ratings for a parametric modulation analysis. Furthermore, we aimed to explore if there was a difference between participants' purchase decisions and their explicit evaluations of social risk, with reference to the neural activity associated with social risk perception. For this, subjective social risk ratings were used for a parametric modulation analysis on fMRI data from the social risk task. Analysis of the purchase intention task revealed a significant positive correlation between ratings of social risk and activity in the anterior insula, an area of the brain that is known as part of the emotion-related network. Analysis of the social risk task revealed a significant positive correlation between ratings of social risk and activity in the temporal parietal junction and the medial prefrontal cortex, which are known as theory-of-mind regions. Our results suggest that the anterior insula processes consumers' social risk implicitly to prompt consumers not to buy socially unacceptable products, whereas ToM-related regions process such risk explicitly in considering the anticipated disapproval of others. These findings may prove helpful in understanding the mental processes involved in purchase decisions.
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