Category: Holidays

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


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.

The 2017 Smart Mom’s Toy Box


10 Classic Games from YOUR Childhood that Boost Brain Skills

If you’re like most of us, you feel torn between letting your child spend time on their technology and getting some free time of your own to get something done (even if that something is a nap).

But what if there was a compromise? What if you chose games and toys that are fun for your kids, but also boost cognitive skills, like memory, auditory & visual processing, attention, logic & reasoning, and processing speed? That’s exactly what you will find in our 2017 Smart Mom’s Toy Box …

LearningRx ( has put together a list of classic games that you’ll probably recognize from your own childhood—some with a modern spin. Chances are, you’ll bond with your child, have fun, and maybe boost some of YOUR brain skills in the process!


Try to repeat increasingly complex patterns with this fast-paced, handheld, electronic game.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: auditory processing, visual processing, memory, attention, processing speed, executive processing, inductive reasoning, sustained attention

Rubik’s Cube

Challenge yourself to match up the colors on all six sides.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: planning, visual processing, logic & reasoning, attention, working memory, problem solving


Use strategy to capture your opponent’s king before they get yours.

Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: divided attention, executive processing, logic & reasoning, planning, problem solving, sequential processing, strategy


Locate your enemy’s ships and destroy all five before they sink yours.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, planning, problem solving, working memory


Devise a plan to capture your opponent’s flag in this classic battlefield game of strategy.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, planning, short-term memory, working memory


Get rid of all your cards first to earn points from other players.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: logic & reasoning, short-term memory, sustained attention, visual processing, working memory


Jigsaw puzzles are relaxing, but they’re also working your brain skills!

Ages: 2+

Cognitive skills: deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, planning, problem solving, short-term memory, visual processing, working memory


Group and play cards in combinations to gain points.

Ages: 7+

Cognitive skills: divided attention, executive processing, logic & reasoning, mental math, numerical concept, problem solving

Connect 4

Be the first to get four discs in a row.

Ages: 6+

Cognitive skills: divided attention, executive processing, logic & reasoning, planning, problem solving, sequential processing, strategy


Earn points by making high-scoring words out of your letter tiles.

Ages: 8+

Cognitive skills: deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning, long-term memory, problem solving, sequential processing, short-term memory, simultaneous processing, visual processing, word attack

Ready to head to the store (or online!) to do your holiday shopping? Take this list, or download a free Games for Skills Chart at:

Scary Snacks for Autumn Fun

Brain Cupcakes

Since we like to talk about the brain, think about the brain, study the brain, and improve the brain, we thought Halloween was the perfect time to MAKE some brains. Take some traditional treats and turn them into a creepy, delicious dish everyone will love. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a zombie to enjoy these brains.

Want to make some scary appetizers for a Halloween party? Try these recipes:

Avocado Salsa Brain Dip
Creamy Chicken Brain Dip
Skeleton and Brain Dip
Shrimp Cocktail Dip
Watermelon Brain

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