The science of stuff
The day after Christmas I haul my overflowing, jumbo-sized trash bin to the curb for pickup. Then El Hubbo and I roll our eyes in anti-consumption conspiracy when we see the morning newspaper and the anticipated lunacy contained in its fold. “The after Christmas sale,” we groan. Those poor chumps.
Secretly, though, slipping out to the grocery store for a few necessities (mind you, just bread and milk) I couldn’t resist the urge to eye a rack of marked-for-clearance Christmas items.
As if I really need that green and red Santa-patterned serving plate. Oh, but the possibilities….perhaps to stack the finger sandwiches upon it for next year’s brunch, that bringing the approving nod from my sister-in-law, guru of domesticity. Yes! Already I am sucked into the fantasy. Peace on earth.
And then this morning, trying to work and clear up pesky emails, temptation visits again in the form of “Grouponicus” messages and similar offerings from Amazon( previously known as my faithful book purveyor.) The deals of the ‘net practically scream at you. EIGHTY PERCENT OFF!!! Swanky-sounding sites call to me - My Habit, Woot, Fat Wallet. One click and I”m in the club.
Of course, the Brain part of Brain Nurse knows what’s at play in the cranial sandbox: the guilty pleasure of the Dopamine Pathway is involved and the relative success or failure of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is the brain’s governor of prudence, appropriateness and ability to plan ahead for the bigger goal. A brain with an active PFC exercises circumspect. We know that people who can delay pleasure and not blow their nest egg on impulsive buying have more PFC activity. The instant-gratification camp, on the other hand, are more challenged in that area. A study that got some media buzz last fall involved kids who made decisions on received marshmallow awards now or later. Here’s a link on that research:http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/10/30/the-new-science-behind-your-spending-addiction.html
Hands down, the kids who couldn’t delay gratification lost out later in life – lower SAT scores, higher participation in crime, not to mention more trouble with debt and money management. The good news, according to the article, is that such behavior can be retrained. The brain, after all, is malleable and astonishingly adaptive. Even in the face of marshmallows.