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What is it about fashion that makes some of us fill our closets with clothing that will rarely, if ever, see the light of day? Turns out you may be high on dopamine, the pleasure hormone our bodies release when we’re anticipating a reward. “The dopamine rush you get from shopping is similar to the rush you get from gambling,” says Cinder Smith, a Calgary-based psychologist.
The only potential downer to a dopamine hit is the price tag. Research published in Neuron found that excessive prices activate parts of the brain that can halt or curb your desire to buy. Alternatively, if you feel like you’re getting a deal, activity in that same area decreases, reducing your barriers to buying.
“Stores have certain ‘discount’ triggers to up the level of anticipation and trigger a stronger dopamine response,” says Dr. Susan Weinschenk, chief behavioral scientist at The Team W and an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin. Special deals and store events can make you feel a sense of urgency that will lead you to take action and buy an item simply because it seems like a bargain.
There are a number of tactics that stores use to encourage spending. One is anchoring. “Whatever number you see first sets a framework for all other numbers,” says Weinschenk. For example, a sign that offers 75 per cent off or deals 365 days a year anchor your mind to 75 or 365. “You’ll compare a shirt at $26 to the higher number that you subconsciously saw when you walked in the door. It will make you feel like you are getting a deal.”
Bracketing is another technique used to trigger dopamine and offset the downer that comes with sticker shock. Items such as jeans will be priced at a series of low, medium and high amounts. “People tend to go for the middle price,” says Weinschenk. The tactic can trick you into spending a bit more but still leave you feeling the same high you’d feel if you’d got a huge deal.