The study, published inFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, analysed the neural pathways involved in processing products with a Fairtrade emblem to try and identify a potential mechanism that explains why Fairtrade products are evaluated more positively.
Led by senior author Professor Bernd Weber from the University of Bonn, the researchers used brain scanners to monitor neural activity while participants were asked to bid on a variety of products that came in either conventional or Fairtrade (FT) form – finding that participants were willing to pay around 30% more for products produced according to FT standards, compared to their conventionally produced counterparts.
Using the brain scanning data, the team then demonstrated that products labelled with the ethical logo led to increased activity in specific brain regions, including increased activation in regions important for reward processing as well as frontal regions that process abstract product attributes.
They also suggested that part of the frontal lobe ultimately calculates the willingness to pay - in an area known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, (vmPFC).
"The higher the activity in the vmPFC, the more money subjects were willing to pay," explained Weber.
“We also found a significant taste-placebo effect, with higher experienced taste pleasantness and intensity for FT labelled chocolates,” the team reported.