Humans Are Primed to Buy Goods

I came across an article written by Bret Stetka, MD, and Kit Yarrow, PhD, about the neuropsychology of consumption, offered, poignantly, around Black Friday. The authors admit that the motivation for shopping is complex; just as much of human motivation is.

They acknowledge that like all other motivations, the motivation for shopping emanates from our limbic brain, which I refer to as our “reactive brain”. Critical areas such as the amygdala, the hypothalamus, and the hippocampus are centrally involved.

It is clear that the authors are not describing those with compulsive disorders though they allude to some of these themes. Dr. Yarrow is author of a book entitled Decoding The New Consumer Mind. He suggests that shopping is indeed therapeutic for some, and that for others it is an exciting “competitive sport”.

Further, the authors indicate that somehow, most shopping involves connecting to others. Perhaps the sporting part of the experience explains the Black Friday Stampede where herds of frenetic consumers swamp department stores. And of course, the authors allude to the neuromarketing tactics by the marketers designed to influence this herding behavior for their financial gains.

As I ponder these shopping and consumer behaviors, I take a more critical view of us as consumers. I stay guided by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to discern this particular motivation. We must all meet essential survival needs. Next, essential needs for safety and security dominate. Next, are the needs of affiliation and affection. Fourth, involves approval and recognition from others. And finally, we all are on a path to become the best person we can possibly be; a state Maslow calls “self-actualization”.

I believe that most big businesses create the illusion that our connections to others are enhanced by the purchase and consumption of material goods. When, in fact, spending quality time with one another are truly the steps to both intrapersonal and interpersonal contentment and happiness.

So, once again this year, just like all the others, I will not be herding on Black Friday or any other day like some of my counterparts!


Bret Stetka and Kit Yarrow. Why We Shop: The Neuropsychology of Consumerism. Medscape. 22 November 2013.

Image via Ollyy / Shutterstock.

Richard Kensinger, MSW

Richard Kensinger, MSW, has over forty years of clinical experience in behavioral healthcare as a psychotherapist, trainer, consultant, and faculty member in the Psychology Department, Mount Aloysius College. He has also taught at Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University. He is also a lover of "football", known in the USA as soccer. He is currently associated for over 30 years with youth "football", 26 as a referee.
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