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August 24, 2021

3 brain hacks to control your Amazon addiction
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“From the evolutionary perspective, the human brain evolved to feel first and think later,” says neuroscientist and marketing consultant Terry Wu. The part of the brain that controls emotions (the limbic system) and the part that deals with rational thought (the frontal cortex) can send conflicting signals, which leads to bad decision-making.

Stress, easy access to online shopping platforms, and other factors cause the limbic system to overtake the frontal cortex as we seek instant gratification. Retailers cater to the emotional brain so that we shop more, but there are ways to resist the manipulation.

“The important thing is to create some barriers between the desire to shop and shopping,“ says Wu, who suggests establishing designating shopping days, using physical activity to lower stress, and seeking support from friends.

TERRY WU: The human brain is not a thinking machine that feels, it's a feeling machine that thinks. Humans have this innate desire to seek a sense of control. Driven by the strong emotions, we stop making rational decisions when it comes to buying. We buy products simply because we want to gain a sense of control. At the same time, the innate desire to seek instant gratification drives to buy more and more.

NARRATOR: How can we resist being manipulated into spending?

WU: With neuromarketing, we can understand how the emotions, feelings, and intuition shape the buying decisions. Money can bring joy, security, excitement, and satisfaction. At the same time, money can bring worry, jealousy, resentment, and anxiety.

NARRATOR: And what really drives the need to shop? This is Your Brain on Money. This is Terry Wu. He's a neuroscientist and a marketing consultant, and he wants people to understand the irrational forces driving their spending habits.

WU: From the evolutionary perspective, the human brain evolved to feel first and think later. The emotional brain is called the limbic system. It's responsible for all the emotions like joy, happiness, anger, fear, and anxiety. The rational brain is called the frontal cortex: it is heavily involved in reason and logic. Sometimes these two systems conflict with each other, and the decisions are the results of a complex interaction.

NARRATOR: At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans stockpiled toilet paper, but not because it had anything to do with keeping them safe.

WU: Buying toilet paper was a simple coping mechanism for people to deal with their stress. While under stress, the frontal cortex stops functioning at full capacity. The emotional brain kicks into a higher gear: it overpowers the rational thinking, we feel like we're losing a sense of control. We have difficulty in controlling the impulses and delay the gratification. We stop making rational decisions when it comes to buying.

NARRATOR: The miracle of modern abundance means more human beings have near-instant access to affordable products than in any other time in the history of the world.

WU: With online shopping available 24/7, it's very tempting to shop online all the time, and to seek that instant gratification and to seek that instant reward. We think Amazon is in the retail business, but in reality Amazon is in the instant gratification business. The human brain was not evolved to interact with a computer screen, the human brain was evolved to interact with other humans.

NARRATOR: Shopping is often easy and cheap. It makes sense that human neuropsychology might not be prepared to effectively navigate the constant deluge of social media shopping ads and one-click purchase buttons.

WU: Many companies subtly use crowd influence to nudge to buy products.Imagine you try to buy a microphone for your computer. Amazon helps you make that decision by showing you the best sellers, the Amazon's choice, and those products that have the highest ratings. So Amazon pretty much has made that decision for you before you even went to Amazon.

NARRATOR: We often use credit cards when shopping online, which means there's a disconnect between the present self that gets to enjoy the new item and the future self who has to deal with the consequences.

WU: Credit card companies and loan companies know this very well. They intentionally disconnect the present self and the future self. When we spend money with cash, we can feel that money is leaving. This is why spending money with a credit card we tend to spend more simply because we don't feel the pain of paying. Companies...

To read the full transcript, please visit bigthink.com/singleton/spending-habits

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