TUESDAY, Sept. 20, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Move over, gourmet meal. Apparently cold hard cash and a shiny new sports car are drool-worthy, too.
That's the conclusion of new research that examined how people react when faced with the prospect of non-edible consumption.
The bottom-line: people salivate when they desire material objects, according to the study, published online recently in the Journal of Consumer Research.
"Merely being exposed to the concept of money has been shown to have dramatic effects on behavior, and it has even been argued that money can be conceptualized as a drug," doing much the same thing as other stimulants in driving human behavior, noted study author David Gal of Northwestern University in a journal press release.
In fact, "in multiple languages, the terms hunger and salivation are used metaphorically to describe desire for non-food items," he noted.
In the study, Gal first had study participants view photos of money while holding cotton dental rolls in their mouths. While gazing, some of the participants were instructed to "feel" powerful, while others were told to believe that they lacked power.
The result: by weighing the rolls to measure saliva Gal found that only those who perceived themselves as being in a low-power situation had a mouth-watering reaction to money.
"This suggests that people salivate to non-food items when those items are desired to fulfill a highly active goal," he suggested.
Romance may be another prime motivator in drooling after expensive goods, the study found.
In a second experiment, Gal confronted a group of men with photos of high-end cars. However, before looking at the cars, some of the men were first shown photos of beautiful women and told to ponder one they would like to date. Others were simply told to think about getting a haircut.
The result: those musing over mating salivated more than those musing over a mullet.
Gal said that the finding echoes those of prior studies, suggesting that men often seek to make an impression on women they pursue by shopping for expensive goodies.
Gal also believes that salivating over objects of desire, be it trinkets or truffles, may stem from a neurological pathway that ends up triggering the same reward bell in the brain.
"Salivation," he concluded, "might merely be the consequence of the activation of this general reward system."
There's more on how the brain works at the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.