The hidden dangers of shopping

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  • With Christmas around the corner and most of us in full shopping mode, new research suggests a seemingly innocent luxury purchase can escalate in to a blow-the-budget spending spree

    Just one ‘treat’ purchase can trigger a neurological reaction in our brain and send spending spiralling according to professor Vanessa Patrick of the University of Houston.

    New research has found that when we buy a luxury item on a whim, it can look out of place when compared to other possessions in our wardrobes or homes.

    But instead of returning the out of place item, the study has found that most of us end up making more luxury or designer purchases to try and restore what scientists call ‘aesthetic harmony’. This leads to a far larger spending spree and so the cycle starts over again.

    Professor Patrick explains: ‘We buy something we really like – because what could be wrong in purchasing a cute purple sweater or a unique side table for the hallway? But before we know it, we have purchased matching necklaces, shoes and bags for the sweater or paintings and wallpaper to match the table.’

    So what drives us to such indulgence? According to the study, emotions play a key role in whether or not we can bring ourselves to return a misfit purchase.

    When a ‘new buy’ doesn’t fit in with our existing possessions, we tend to regret the purchase and return the out of place buy to the shop.

    But if the mismatched item involves design, we experience less regret at the impulse buy and more frustration at the standard of the rest of our lives, says the study. This prompts us to try to incorporate the item into our lives by making yet more purchases.

    The researchers have even got a name for this extraordinary new psychological phenomenon. It’s called ‘aesthetic incongruity resolution’ and researchers are now working on ways to cure starry-eyed shoppers from their spending affliction.

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