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Exploiting dopamine at the open house

Posted by Rona Fischman May 3, 2011 02:00 PM

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In How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer explains, in depth, how the mind learns complex tasks. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain. It is the chemical that’s involved in our learning of patterns that lead to reward. Our minds crave patterns; we enjoy looking for them.

At a simple level, think Pavlov’s experiment with the dogs: ring the bell; give the dog meat. Do that a few times; the dog will anticipate the meat as soon as the bell is rung, as shown by the dog salivating. At a more advanced level, chess masters have learned patterns of chess moves, not one at a time, to become masters. Gamblers looks for patterns that are frequently not there, but their minds are excited by the hunt and the intermittent reward.

This ability to learn patterns is what separates us from a mathematically-bound program like Deep Blue, the chess-wizard of Artificial Intelligence. Deep Blue needs to go through two hundred million chess moves a second to keep up with the human brain of Garry Kasparov. Garry's mind goes at about five per second, in patterns that his dopamine receptors enabled him to learn. Chess is a game of patterns. Deep Blue eventually won, by brute data-volume alone.

So, what's this got to do with open houses?

Frequently, my clients will notice how a house is “just like” some friend or relative’s house. Pattern recognized; dopamine is excited. When a buyer recognizes such a pattern, it should be a warning sign. Just like stereotypes can lead you to not notice things about people, seeing a house as “just like” a different house may lead you to the stereotype in your head and reduce your awareness of the details of the property.

It is time to slow down and get back to the house at hand. Is this house the house for you? Would you use the house the same way as that friend or relative? I encourage my buyers to get back to their priority list. Sometimes this pattern recognition will help identify a style of house that will suit this particular buyer. Other times, it is the dopamine talking; the house “feels like home,” but is not useful for the buyer’s current lifestyle.

Some of the typical real estate tricks that set off pattern recognition are those that hit the “house is a home” pattern. This includes the baked cookies, baking bread, flowers, and strategically placed toys. Buyers, when you see or smell them, go back to your priority list. You can bake in any house.

Have you noticed patterns when you house hunt? Are there ways you benefited from recognizing patterns to rule in or rule out types of properties?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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