Black Friday on the brain: when is holiday shopping too much?

How the brain’s response to gift giving may push some shoppers to overspend

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — The emotional highs and lows of finding the perfect gift for a loved one can elicit a similar — albeit lesser — response in the brain as consuming drugs or alcohol, according to Ken Yeager, director of the Stress and Trauma Resilience Program at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

How does it work?

Yeager said shoppers are unknowingly activating neurotransmitters associated with pleasure in their brain, like Dopamine, when they weigh good bargains against what they perceive as the perfect gift.

That in turn leads to anticipation: Will the loved one respond positively to the gift, reinforcing the positive feelings the buyer felt when purchasing the gift? Or will the gift be unwanted, generating feelings of buyer’s remorse?

“Drugs that change mood primarily work on the same neurotransmitters, just to a much greater degree,” Yeager said.

Black Friday holds less prominence in the holiday shopping season today than it has in years past: The National Retail Federation (NRF), the nation’s largest retail trade group, found that 56% of consumers had already started shopping by the first week of November. Retailers have responded in kind by offering pre-Black Friday sales, luring consumers to shop for longer periods of time.

Yeager said there’s a temptation to overspend during the holidays – triggered by the convenience of online shopping, the stress of shopping in crowded stores and the pressure to save big when stores advertise limited-time only sales.

Yearger’s tips:

• Set a budget per person and stick to it. “That avoids the trap of having to raise budgets” after overspending on one person’s gift, Yeager said.

• Always get gift receipts and wrap the receipts with the present. “That way there’s no question as to whether or not it can be returned,” which Yeager said can limit negative feedback when a loved one does not like their gift.

• When shopping for someone out of state, make sure to buy from stores that person has access to. “If you buy from a Kohl’s or Eddie Bauer store, is there an Eddie Bauer store? Because then they can send the gift back there,” Yeager said.

•Remember the holidays are about more than gift giving. “Prioritizing spending time with your family and/or other people you love and care about helps with reducing the stress.”
How the brain’s response to gift giving may push some shoppers to overspend

By Mackenzi Klemann

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.

Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.

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