Shopping on the Brain

When you’re feeling sad or a little bit under the weather – shopping is usually a lot of people’s go to. Over the years the phrase “retail therapy” has been thrown around, however, now it actually is backed by scientific evidence.

Robert Sapolsky is a neuroscientist who studies dopamine in the brain – dopamine helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. When shopping or considering buying something new, dopamine helps us see the benefits, and allows us to move forward with the purchase. Sapolsky conducted an experiment with monkeys – he trained them to push a button when a light signal appeared, and after the tenth time, a small treat would appear. He measured the amount and the time dopamine was released in the monkey’s brain during the whole process. And surprisingly, it was released during the anticipation of a reward.

Much like shopping, we go into a store but as soon as we see ‘discount’ or ‘buy one get one free’ – dopamine really spikes. Scientists at Stanford used fMRI to notice which parts of the brain became activated while shopping. The first region activated was the nucleus accumbens – which is associated with the anticipation of pleasure. However, once prices were brought into the equation, two things happened: the insula was activated and the decision-making part of the brain (prefrontal cortex), was deactivated.

While you can’t see what goes on in your brain while you shop or before you make a purchase, researchers like us at Emotional Logic can. We are experts in seeing what really happens to shoppers’ subconscious minds. We have various tools that have helped us achieve actionable results for major brands, such as our Fixture Optimiser and Communication Optimiser.

If you would like to understand your customers on an emotional level, contact us.