Only in America do people trample each other for sales a day after being thankful for what they already have. Even well-intentioned shoppers can fall victim to the strategies of skillful advertisers, says Northwestern University psychology professor David DeSteno.

Professional marketers understand the biases of the human brain, namely that we're willing to sacrifice long-term gain for short term benefit. In other words, we willingly buy things we don't need (or truly want) just because we're getting "a good deal."

"Tactics emphasizing scarcity ('only 10 televisions at this price in stock') and delayed cost ('0 percent interest until 2016') are employed to great effect. Such tactics prey on one of the mind’s greatest vulnerabilities: the innate human preference for rapid reward, or immediate gratification."

In DeSteno's experiments, a majority of people preferred to be given cash-in-hand over larger gains made on medium-term investment. But when participants were prompted to have feelings of gratitude, they gave greater value to medium-term gain. Feeling grateful for the things you already have reduces your susceptibility to wanting instant gratification: the advertisers' siren song.

In his Big Think interview, author Charles Duhigg explains how ignoring your urges can cause them to erupt. So be sure to schedule some shopping time, with limits, this holiday season:

Read more at the New York Times

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