If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t resist buying the latest iPhone as soon as it’s released, it may be because your brain is wired to make you crave new technology—and tech companies are more than happy to exploit this weakness.
This theory is postulated by Sundeep Teki, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, who argues that our brains are genetically wired to seek needs such as security and social status. That act of seeking and realizing desire triggers activity in the reward network of the brain, located in a region called the striatum. This is followed by the release of a chemical called dopamine, which reinforces compulsive behavior. When we’re rewarded, our dopamine levels will increase, and if unchecked, excessive reward seeking could lead to addictive behavior like gambling and alcoholism.
In the modern world, however, most people are able to easily communicate their desires through information, social networking, photos, and music. “Not unsurprisingly, a neuroimaging study revealed that Apple products activate the same parts of the brain in its fans as religious images trigger in a person of faith,” Teki explains. So the idea that there’s basically a cult around Apple, Tesla, and other premier brands may not be much of an exaggeration.
The combination of marketing and neuroscience has created a field called “neuromarketing,” in which businesses try to understand consumer behavior through experimental psychology and neuroscience. Using that data, companies try to develop ways to trigger consumers’ desire for their products.
It’s easy to see why brands love it when they become part of our daily vocabulary (we “Instagram” photos or “Whatsapp” our friends to chat). The idea is to get the technology completely enmeshed in the lives of consumers, so that they can’t live without it.
There are also other psychological reasons why we may crave to be up-to-date on technology and feel compelled to be early adopters. For one, companies tell us that we should want them. When Tim Cook marketed the $17,000 Apple Watch a year ago, he described it as “unbelievably unique and very special” and that owning it would be the “ultimate experience.” That technique is especially effective if you are predisposed to like Apple products. This could explain some of why the Apple Watch sold pretty well in its first year, even though most people aren’t remotely convinced of the gadget’s utility.
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Another reason we’re drawn to shiny new gadgets is simply hope. As a population that has witnessed incredible technological change in a short amount of time, we might be predisposed to hope that every technological innovation will revolutionize our lives. Whether or not they will, companies hope to make money off your optimism.