The Psychology of Shopping
Have you ever wondered why buying things feels so good? The main reason is that shopping causes our bodies to release the same mood lifting endorphins and dopamine that are produced during exercise and sexual activity. These chemicals flood the pleasure and reward centers in the prefrontal cortex of our brains and we feel happy about our purchases.
Along with the flood of feel good chemicals shopping fills the social needs of consumers. Sales people strike up conversations with customers; strangers ask each other’s opinions and shoppers frequently run in to friends and acquaintances in the stores. Many people take friends along on shopping trips to further the social aspect of the activity.
There is a distinct difference between the ways men and women enjoy shopping. Most women receive the same the same chemical release and social fulfillment shopping provides by simply browsing through the shops. Men only receive the benefits of shopping when making a purchase. Unlike most women, men typically become bored, irritated and even depressed while browsing through shops without buying anything.
While shopping provides many benefits there are also downsides for even the most avid consumers. It can be very frustrating to spend hours searching through the mall for the perfect dress only to return home empty handed. Large stores stock their racks with a wide variety of clothing in an effort to draw in a diverse blend of customers, but the large selection can be overwhelming for shoppers and make them indecisive about their purchases. If you get overwhelmed by the selection in larger stores stick to shopping at specialty shops and boutiques. You may have to visit several before you find what you’re looking for but the limited selection in each individual shop will make it easier to decide what you like.
The largest downside to shopping is that it can become an addiction. When you buy something the reward center of your brain is filled with those ‘feel good’ chemicals. When this reward center is stimulated our bodies become conditioned to repeat the behaviour we are being rewarded for. Shopping addiction is very similar to alcoholism and drug addiction.
Here are some helpful signs that your shopping habit is becoming a serious problem.
- You hide your purchases, or completely forget what you bought. Fear of admitting that you’ve shopped, or blocking purchases from you memory are sure signs that you should not be shopping at all.
- You go to a store for one new bra and leave with eight. This is compulsive buying and it’s a common characteristic among shopping addicts.
- You frequently spend far more than you can afford. If you begin to have trouble paying household bills because you’ve spent all of your money at the mall it is time to get help.
Shopping in moderation can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just keep the warning signs in mind to ensure your hobby doesn’t become destructive. If you feel you’ve developed a shopping addiction seek professional help.