Pension saving stimulates love hormone – Standard Life

Positive and helpful communication about long term saving stimulates dopamine and can in turn encourage the “love hormone” oxytocin, according to Standard Life.

Neuro-imaging research for the provider also found a third of savers can be persuaded to increase their contributions but retirement savings communications need to be positive in tone to achieve this.

Experts from neuro-imaging researcher Mindlab, commissioned to carry out the research by Standard, used electroencephalography (EEG) neuroimaging technology to measure the brain’s response to information about saving. They tested how positive, neutral and negative emotional context in messages about saving for the future affected basic drivers of behaviour and what effect a call to action such as suggesting further saving, versus no call to action had on individuals.

They found that presenting information in a positive tone, highlighting opportunities for a pleasant retirement, as opposed to the threat of an unpleasant one or no context at all, combined with practical steps for taking action, was shown to be the most effective way to change savings behaviour.

The report says using a positive tone also plays an important role in increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is associated with functions such as cognitive flexibility, as well as reward-motivated behaviour and decision-making. Dopamine also plays a role in lowering levels of anxiety and can also lead to greater engagement with our money when thinking about one’s family’s future and encourage oxytocin, says Standard.
Oxytocin is released when people hug, kiss, shake hands, engage in eye contact and perhaps when we simply think about those we love. It increases empathy, mother-and-baby bonding, romantic attachment, trust and self-esteem.

The study was completed in two stages. A benchmarking questionnaire of 2,000 UK adults was used to establish people’s own views of their emotions around saving. This was followed by a laboratory experiment carrying out neuro-imaging tests on 32 adults.

The questionnaire research established that people who save are significantly more optimistic, calm, hopeful and confident about their future finances than those with no savings for the future. They are also far less anxious, insecure and pessimistic. It found more than half of people – 57 per cent – saving for the future feel optimistic, compared to just 20 per cent of those who are not saving for the future. Conversely, only 25 per cent of savers felt pessimistic compared to 44 per cent of non-savers.

Standard Life managing director, customer & marketing Stephen Ingledew says: “We now know that people can feel all kinds of emotions when they think about saving for the future, from anxiety and hopelessness, to optimism and security, and how they approach their savings is an important factor. We also have compelling evidence that the right communications can help to change the way we feel. The future of savings communication should be personal and positive, not nebulous and negative.  The results show that positive communication with guidance on what to do next help people feel more motivated and able to take action. In turn, when considering our family’s welfare, it can also stimulate the love hormone oxytocin which actually makes us feel good.”

Cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Lynda Shaw says: “The results of this study also showed that just offering savings guidance – simple steps as to what to do next – regardless of emotional tone, did in fact increase participant’s intention to save.  This is highly relevant.  We live in an age of information saturation.  At the press of a button we can access an incredible amount of information that is both overwhelming and confusing.  It can be argued that guidance on what to do next not only promotes curiosity and interest, but also simplifies.  It helps people feel confident to make that next step.”