Category: Brain Science and Health

Hey Big Spender! Why our brains make us spend too much during the holidays

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Whether or not we stay within our holiday shopping budget may not depend as much on willpower as it does on the circuitry of our own brains. Learn why your brain “lights up” when shopping—and how you can avoid impulse spending this season.

Three Simple Tips to Avoid Impulse Spending and Stay within Your Holiday Budget

The holidays are here, which for most of us means spending time shopping in malls or online looking for gifts for loved ones (and even for ourselves!). It also means trying to keep from spending too much money.

Apparently whether we stay within our holiday shopping budget may not depend as much on willpower as it does on the circuitry of our own brains.

Brian Knutson of Standford University and colleagues mapped the brains of shoppers using a MRI. They discovered that, as people contemplated whether or not to make a purchase, one of two segments of their brains would “light up.” If the nucleus accumbens–part of the reward and pleasure center of the brain–lit up, the subject would invariably make the purchase. If the insula–the part of the brain that registers pain (such as the pain of something costing more than its perceived value)–lit up, the subject would invaribly say “Thanks, but no thanks.”

By watching which part of the brain became active, researchers could accurately predict whether or not the shopper would make the purchase.

The reason shopping feels so good may be related to the brain chemical dopamine. This “feel good” chemical is released anytime we are exposed to the exciting mix of new places, challenges, sights and sounds–all of which are plentiful at the mall.

Looking to the brain for reasons people make the decisions they do is a new science. Baba Shiv, professor of marketing and an expert in the field of “decision neuroscience” says that, “Ten years ago if you said there is going to be fMRI in marketing research, I would have said it will never happen.” He explains that now business researchers and neuroscientists are working together, “moving toward systems of brain analysis, figuring out what gives us the juice to make decisions.”

Knudsen agrees, adding, “We’re moving from the outside to the inside of the mind.”

As you go about your holiday shopping, understanding how your brain perceives and even influences the experience may help you make better decisions.

If you’re prone to impulse purchases and are worried about staying in your budget, try these three things:

For starters, be extra careful while traveling–the novelty of shopping in a new city can make you particularly vulnerable to the heady pleasure of bagging a bargain.

Also, when contemplating a purchase you suspect you’ll regret, neutralize the thrill of the moment and activate your insula by thinking of three unpleasant ramifications that might be related to the purchase you’re trying to resist.

Finally, consider leaving the store and coming back the next day to let the dopamine settle before making your final decision.

“I’m the Stupidest Kid in My Class!”

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iStock_000034604652_MediumWhen their hearts break, our hearts break. It’s one of the excruciating mysteries and blessings of being a parent.

We love our kids, and know just how amazing they really are. So when one of our kids is feeling inadequate or discouraged, we want desperately to fix the hurt.

It’s not easy knowing the right thing to say or do. And even when we have a good idea of what to say, it’s not always a quick fix.  Just like the adults who love them, kids sometimes need time to process the insecurities and disappointments of life.

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Are Your Child’s Learning Struggles Turning You into a Monster?

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HiResYou’re frustrated and frazzled.

You’ve been nagging at your kids for hours. Snapping. Yelling, even. You’re not happy with how you’re acting, but you can’t seem to stop the momentum, pull a U-turn and get yourself off Witchy Lane and back onto Reasonable Avenue.

Welcome to the club.

Every parent has days when life’s challenges feel… well, challenging. And if you’re the parent of a kid who is struggling, those challenges can feel absolutely overwhelming. Stress (as we all know) can bring out the worst in all of us. And if you’re feeling the stress of herding a resistant child through hours of homework, dealing with angry outbursts, or being stretched too thin, that stress can prompt you to respond in ways you know aren’t helpful.

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How Facebook Could Be Working Hand-in-Hand With Your Own Brain Chemistry

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Social networksDid you know:

864 million people use Facebook on a daily basis? Or that the time spent on Facebook per user per day is more than twenty minutes?

What’s very interesting is that much of the success of Facebook can be attributed to brain chemistry.  The way Facebook is set up triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that is linked to pleasurable feelings of reward, and also oxytocin, the “love hormone” that helps us feel close to people we care about.

One of the things about Facebook that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine in our brains is simply looking at pictures of attractive people.  And because these people are usually folks that we know and care about, it can also increase the release of oxytocin.

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Hello? Can You Hear Me?

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People who own smartphones often end up using their thumbs—a lot!—swiping through various touchscreens on an ongoing basis throughout the day.

All that thumb action can create physical changes in the brain, researchers say, leaving certain regions more active or even enlarged.

Scientists suspected this might be the case, since something similar happens to violinists. Regions of the brain associated with dexterity are larger in musicians who have played the violin for some time. Would smartphone thumbers show similar changes in brain activity?

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