Do you know why lately fast fashion brand like Zara is having the time of their life? Or why those fashion week’s look-for-less is addictive? We should literally blame our brain 😉
Shopping is a tricky complex process (neurology speaking, of course!) When you see something you like, your brain’s pleasure centre (the nucleus accumbens) is activated. And when shown the price, the medial prefrontal cortex weighs the decision to buy while the other part of your brain (the insula) reacts to the cost (insula processes emotions such as anger, pain, fear, and joy). Deciding whether to buy the object puts the brain in a hedonic competition (medial prefrontal cortex) between the immediate pleasure of acquisition (nucleus accumbens) and an equally immediate pain (insula) of paying. Happiness comes from the pursuit of the object, from the sensation of wanting something.
While pleasure kicks in just from the act of looking, there’s also pleasure in purchasing, or more specifically, in getting a bargain. The medial prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that does what’s essentially cost-benefit analysis. “It seemed to be responsive not necessarily to price alone, or how much I like it, but that comparison of the two: how much I like it compared to what you charge me for it,” says Scott Rick, one of the study’s authors, now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan.*
So if a $30 shorts drops to $20 on sale it’s practically irresistible. The pleasure centre in your brain lights up like Christmas tree. But if a $30-to-$20 shorts lights up your brain, why do some people purchase the almost-same one for $300?
Because, when exposed to luxury brands, people’s medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) becomes activated too. The Idea of Luxury and Twitchell’s interpretation on American’s Love Affair with Luxury both described a link between the perpetuation of the luxury culture and individuals’ desires. So really, it all depends on self-interest and how exposure to luxury can activate related mental representations affecting reasoning and decision-making.* Shopping is no longer just a transaction, it has become a necessities, an end in itself. It’s consumerism as entertainment, much like watching movies.
“Shopping is a way that we search for our selves and our place in the world. A lot of people conflate the search for self with the search for stuff.” – April Lane Benson