Fashion Week #2: Shopping Toys With Your Brain

How you feel when you after you shop:



How you feel one week later:


What happened in that one week period?  That dress DID look a lot better in the store…

Well, it all starts with your emotional state.

Feeling sad… avoid the mall at all costs!

A study published in the June edition of Psychological Science magazine found that subjects who watched a video of a sad boy before shopping, spent FOUR times as much as individuals shown a neutral nature video. FOUR times as much, that is the difference between a 100 dollar outfit and a 400 dollar one, that adds up!

So, why exactly do sadder individuals fell the need to swipe their credit cards? Like many other causes of happiness, it trails back to the feel-good neurotransmitters – dopamine, glutamate, GABA, Seretioton, Acetylcholine, Cannabinoids, and Opioids. However, not all these neurotransmitters are involved in shopping. The weapons of choice for shopping are dopamine and serotonin. The brain releases these two chemicals when an individual finds something new, intriguing, and unique. That dress you love – you might just like because it is like nothing you have seen before.

Feeling food? Most likely because of these neurotransmitters

The shopping experience is not confined to the clothing though. A friendly sales clerk, funky clothing displays, or simply a clean and well-organized store can release these feel-good chemicals too.

In short, the brain loves the novelty of shopping.

However, not ALL of the shopping experience is good.

You see a dress from across the store – love at first sight. You run over, start holding it up, the dress IS amazing! You flip inside the fabric, find the price tag and then… oh no! The dress is super expensive. Your insula fires in response to this shocking discovery.

The insula is still one of the mysteries of neuroscience and is notorious for being involved in many different un-related tasks.

Wine tasting, insula.

Music, insula.

Pain, insula.

Addiction, insula.

All of these different tasks are SO different which is why it is hard to give the Insula a clear label. Obviously, more research is needed.

What we do know is that your brain reacts the same way to that shocking price tag as it does to a repulsive smell, by firing in the insula.

Diagram of the insula

Lastly, I wanted to include an interesting study included in the Wall Street Journal included a by Dr. David Lewis, who has examined the effects of shopping on over 300 subjects in 10 different countries. Dr. Lewis examined, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a WSJ journalist while she shopped.  Lien Tan visited one mainstream brand – T.J Maxx and a high-end boutique – Intermix.

While scanning the results of Lien Tan’s shopping experience, Dr. Lewis searched for specific moments of euphoria.


Euphoria can be tracked through brain spikes modeled above


At T.J Maxx, euphoria occurred 6 times, each caused by colorful clothing items.

At Intermix, there were only 3 spikes. Similar to at T.J Max they were caused by colorful and artful clothes. However, one of the spikes was caused by the discovery of a whole new rack to explore.

Intermix clothing rack


Interestingly, the clothing items that caused the largest spikes, Lien Tan did not consider buying.  On the other hand, the items she actually bought only caused small spikes.

Why did this happen? Well, brain spikes are not caused by a desire to buy clothes, they are caused because specific items being eye-catching.

Markets are knowledgeable of the premise that humans can be manipulated into feeling happy with the use of color. For this reason, they dress manikins in artful clothing to entice you from the get-go.

Just remember, shopping can be fun in the moment but credit card debt is not. Good luck and happy shopping!










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