Space & Innovation

Inside the Mind of a Shopaholic

What separates the run-of-the-mill impulse buyer from the compulsive shopper?

Black Friday is just a week away, an annual tradition in which holiday shoppers make bigger spectacles of themselves than the most lavishly decorated neighborhood Christmas displays.

Most shoppers pack stores to snag a deal on a television, smartphone or some other expensive must-have. Others simply like the competitive atmosphere, living for the giddy thrill of trampling a fellow shopper to save 25 percent off retail.

For some, however, shopping is less of a pastime and more of an addiction. These people have compulsive shopping disorder, a condition rife with splurges, debt and regret.

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Approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population has this condition. And while it's true that many lack money and credit management skills, what these shoppers are often looking for is a "buy high," a buzz or emotional rush to put themselves in a better mood, found San Francisco State University researchers in 2013. Compulsive shoppers overrate the emotional or transformative value of a purchase.

These types of individual often unsurprisingly hold materialistic values, found the study, published in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

When under stress, materialistic individuals, such as from a traumatic event, materialist individuals are more likely to shop compulsively, according to a 2013 study by Michigan State University researchers.

Rather than providing any social of emotional outlet, the extreme stress-induced purchases only increase anxiety and lower well-being, the researchers found, and materialistic individuals already tend to have lower self-esteem than others to begin with.

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In fact, it's exactly at low moments that people are most likely to shop for high-status items, and they're more likely to make those purchases on credit, according to a study published in 2011 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

This of course can create a vicious cycle, in which a materialistic individual with low self-esteem buys a luxury item he or she cannot afford in an effort to improve sense of self. The financial burden can cause stress and strain relationships over the issue of money, further affecting the mood of the individual and leading to more spending to try to regain a sense of self-worth.

So what separates someone with compulsive shopping disorder with a more run-of-the-mill spendthrift? To answer that question, earlier this year, researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway developed the aptly named Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale.

The scale uses seven criteria to identify shopping addiction, which include constant thoughts about shopping, buying to improve mood, buying to the detriment of other obligations, inability to change behavior and more.

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In addition to the seven criteria, researchers found two key personality traits that increase risk of compulsive shopping behavior, extroversion and neuroticism. Extroverts tend to view shopping as a social affairs and see purchases through the lens of social status. Neurotics shop to relieve anxiety or depression.

There are treatment options for those with compulsive shopping disorder, which may include medication, typically antidepressants, or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Other recommendations include shopping with a friend, getting rid of credit cards and finding other meaningful outlets besides shopping, even if not especially when it's Black Friday.

Whether you're clicking until it hurts looking for Black Friday deals online or elbowing your way past your fellow humans in a brick-and-mortar to grab the last box of the hottest new ... something! ... on the shelves, eventually you're going to tire of all of that expending of energy, and cash. So why not ease your mind, check out some all-black creatures, and remember that nature still exists on this day of rampant consumerism? All-blackness occurs in lots of creatures, often as a rarity. Above we see an all-black caiman sneaking its way toward prey, or toward the electronics aisle for the latest new game.

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Melanistic, or all-black, grey seals are extremely rare. This one was found on the Wadden Islands, off the Netherlands, in 2009. As big as it looks, it was only a few weeks old.

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Black squirrels aren't exactly rare. The subset of the Eastern grey squirrel can be seen on the U.S. East Coast and some Central and Midwestern states.

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Wolves can even sport the occasional coat of black.

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This incredibly rare melanistic King penguin was photographed on a beach in Fortuna Bay, South Georgia, in British Overseas Territory.

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Guinea pigs, too, can occur in fashionable black.

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This black pine snake needs no help shopping for its meals.

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A black variation on the common lizard wonders what all the fuss is about on Black Friday.

Melanistic leopards also fall under the heading of black panthers.

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Melanistic jaguars are also black panthers. The "jag" is bigger and a bit sturdier than the leopard, though they look a lot alike in general.

Black crows are always up for a good haunting of a landscape.

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Of course, how could we leave without saying hello to a black Labrador puppy? Is it just us, or does he look especially happy? Must be the expectation of leftover turkey in his future!