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Science Proves Shopping Really Is a Drug

Photo: iStockphoto

The Wall Street Journal tells us a nice tale today about the time homemaker Donna Hoffman visited New York from South Carolina, went antiquing, and dropped $400 on a magnifying glass. She didn’t really want a $400 magnifying glass, so why did she do it? Those little devils serotonin and dopamine in her brain got the best of her. Research shows that when we shop our brains release chemicals like these, creating brief euphoric moments — when we discover new things (like handbags), turn onto a new uncluttered aisle, see a nice store display, or encounter a friendly sales associate. So the whole idea of retail therapy — that shopping makes us feel better — is a scientifically proven phenomenon. But it doesn’t always work in our favor: Studies show when we shop when we’re feeling blue, we’re more likely to spend unwisely.

A writer from the Journal put on some brain-chemical monitors and went shopping at T.J. Maxx and Intermix to test this whole thing out. Her happy chemicals spiked when she looked at a handbag that reminded her of a Marc Jacobs one she once wanted. They also soared when she looked at brightly colored clothes and turned onto a new aisle full of clothes she wanted to explore. But fishing through crowded racks of clothes killed her spike, and nothing happened when she tried on items she was seriously thinking about buying. Which explains Donna’s weird $400 magnifying-glass purchase and subsequent return just hours later.

Retailers commission studies on stuff like this so they can create stores that’ll make you super happy so you super spend. The obvious thing to do now would be to warn you not to shop after breakups and bad days. But you know what? Where’s the fun in that? We’re going to peer-pressure you to shop more. Because we like that shopping high and we trust ourselves (and you!) not to abuse it like we have other things in the past (kidding!). And if we overspend, so what? Everyone’s gotta have a vice. And that’s why they invented returns.

The Neuroscience of Retailing [WSJ]

Science Proves Shopping Really Is a Drug