"Black Friday" in late November is a peak day for consumerism in the US, and Israel has also joined the celebrations. BIU neuroscientist, Dr. Einav Sudai, explains what drives us to embark on wild shopping sprees
Did you survive Chinese Singles' Day – the mammoth online 24-hour shopping event on November 11? And then, following the Thanksgiving festivities, Black Friday, that peak day for consumerism in the US, arrives! In recent years, Israel has also joined the celebrations. Dr. Einav Sudai, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, explains what it is about these days that drives us to embark on wild shopping sprees.
Black Friday is a day of global shopping fever, with a myriad of brands and stores around the world offering unprecedented once-in-a year discounts and perks. With only 24 hours, limited inventory and (seemingly) high demand, we feel impelled to set out on a “hunting” expedition, armed with credit cards and consumer motivation. We are like hungry lions who notice an approaching flock of antelope: first, we discern the dust kicked up by their movement and the rustling in the nearby vegetation, and then the antelope’s scent begins to activate our hunting instincts. There is limited time for action - the antelopes are swift, their numbers are sparse and the demand is high because other predators lurk in every corner. All our systems are primed. We are focused and ready to take action. And the neural pathway that elicits dopamine in our brains? It was secreting even before we started hunting!
And now back to Black Friday. Although we are not lions in search of food for survival, and even if we do not purchase that leopard-print dress with the green belt, which we have eyed since the beginning of the season, we will probably survive anyway. Still, something drives us to continue to “shop until we drop,” as if it were a matter of life or death, and this is because the survival mechanism is exactly the same mechanism that makes us pounce first on doorbuster sales. When we click the mouse and make a purchase, there is a burst of dopamine in the brain, even before the shipment arrives. Similarly, when we eat or drink, dopamine is secreted. These neurochemical reactions are controlled by one system only - the reward system, which reinforces behavior by giving us a sense of pleasure. It motivates us to ensure that the behavior is sustained and repeated. That is why we continue to eat, drink and reproduce, and also to buy and buy and buy.
The good news is that ”rewards” are also accessible in other forms, for example via social interaction, exercise, and study. So if you overshopped this month, we recommend settling for a hug or a run. The dopamine is the same dopamine.