Behavioral economists have long know that people operate in two worlds. One is dominated by social norms – norms that relate to our need for community and belonging. The other is dominated by market norms – norms which relate to things like price, self interest and equal exchange.

Behavioral economist extraordinaire Dan Arielly illustrates the difference between the two worlds like this. Imagine going to a thanksgiving dinner and instead of bringing a bottle of wine, you give your host a $20 bill. That’s the mixing of social norms and market norms. And it isn’t pretty.

The growing field of cultural cognition is adding an amazing twist to scenario — and it’s all about our values.

To underscore this point, a recent neuroimaging study shows that personal values that people refuse to disavow, even when offered cash to do so, are processed differently in the brain than those values that are willingly sold.

Gregory Burns, the lead author of the study says ” the experiment found that the realm of the sacred—whether it’s a strong religious belief, a national identity, or a code of ethics—is a distinct cognitive process.”

So what’s the gist for us non profit marketers, fundraisers and communicators? Cost and benefits analysis does not influence people’s behaviors when it comes to their sacred personal values. Why? Because they are processed in an entirely different brain system.

The best way to convince people is to appeal to their identity and value system rather than convincing them with data and facts.