The Science of Black Friday

The huge sales on the day after Thanksgiving are a tradition that seems to overshadow the holiday itself for many people. Staying up all night, standing in lines, fighting through throngs of crazed shoppers; these are all intrinsic parts of the Black Friday experience. Why do we put ourselves through this torture? Scientists may have some answers.

Black Friday is tough on the wallets. It’s tough on the shoe leather. It is certainly tough on the mellow point of view that Thanksgiving provides. But it turns out that the experience is great where it counts: the brain.

 First, brain chemistry plays a role in the joy of Black Friday. A neurologist, Dr. Paul Zak, measured oxytocin levels before and after presenting them with a discount coupon. Oxytocin is a brain chemical that promotes feelings of well-being and reduces stress reactions. Dr. Zak found that oxytocin rose immediately upon receiving a coupon. There was no need to even benefit from the coupon, merely receiving it increased the levels of this “happy hormone.”

Then there is the social role to consider. There is a community feeling that comes from the shared experience of line standing and herd shopping. People like the ceremony of waiting for the doors to open and the rush to snatch up the best of the bargains. Even wrestling with other shoppers for that “must have” holiday toy is an enjoyable, almost tribal, experience. Outsiders find it hard to grasp, but these long-standing traditions signal the beginning of a long and joyful holiday season.

So if you are a Black Friday believer, stay strong. Remember to hydrate, wear comfy shoes and keep track of your credit limits. If you are a stay-at-home type, welcome friend. There’s leftover turkey in the fridge and some great black and white movies to enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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