Views / Science Says

Black Friday sales warp your brain and retailers know it

Here's what happens to your head on the biggest shopping day of the year.

Andres Plana / Metro

The super-charged atmosphere on Black Friday can make even the most cool-headed shoppers lose their chill a bit. It turns out that's because retailers are taking advantage of how much the buying extravaganza warps your mind.

Crunching a huge amount of customer data can identify the small group of brand-loyal, big-spending super-shoppers who give stores the most money. A Harvard study showed those customers are chasing a feeling of belonging. That's partly why companies encourage you to take selfies with their products and share them online, or even display them in store.

We tend to want something more if stock or the offer is limited – a natural reaction to scarcity (even fake scarcity) that may go back to our species' days on the savannah. Scarcity can cause stress and even aggression.

Preliminary MRI studies show that looking at low prices lights up the medial prefrontal cortex, responsible for weighing options and rational decision making. The sight of trendy, desirable products, on the other hand, seems to activate the nucleus accumbens, or pleasure centre. In experiments, people often choose to purchase something if they perceive it to be a good deal – even if they don't much desire it.

Studies show pleasant music influences how much money people spend and even makes them feel less time has passed (and the longer people linger, the more products they see).

Research from the British consumer group Which shows about 60 per cent of products given promotional Black Friday pricing are actually cheaper or the same price at other times during the year, including things labelled with “our lowest price.”


Torstar News Service

Chinese scientists have built a microscopic robot out of spirulina, the same green algae you can get in a shot glass at juice bars. It's designed to go inside the human body, and perhaps one day deliver targeted drugs. It worked well in tests on rats. It's harmless to human cells – but kills some cancerous ones – degrades in a few days, and can be moved around using magnetic fields outside of the body.

SOUND SMART: Neuroeconomics

Andres Plana/Metro

Definition: Neuroeconomics is the study of human decision making through the lense of both economics and neuroscience.

Use it in a sentence: The neuroeconomics people at the pool shop saw Deborah coming a mile away. All she needs now is a pool.

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