Want to feel lusty? Go shopping. A recent study at the University of Westminster found that special offers ignite the same level of emotional excitement that one experiences from sexual arousal. Bargains make people deliciously happy, firing up the brain in much the same way as watching an erotic film.
Researchers measured brain activity in the emotional parts of the minds of 50 volunteers, as well as their eye movements and emotional responses in the body, in determining which of several activities evoked the most excitement. They found that giving participants a coupon or free gift with a loaf of bread or a jar of the savory British spread Marmite induced the same level of excitement as being exposed to porn.
This makes perfect sense given that the brain emits the neurotransmitter dopamine during positive shopping experiences, which includes special deals. This chemical activates parts of the brain that bring us pleasure. It is also the same neurotransmitter that is released when we fall in love and the one that stimulates the release of testosterone, the hormone of sexual desire. New experiences, like coming across desirable items to purchase and, better yet, acquiring them, triggers this brain chemical of lust, increasing its levels in our system.
While claims that bargain shopping is as good as sex are certainly debatable, these findings help to explain why people are prone to shopping sprees when down in the dumps. It also gives clues as to how shopping can act as a form of foreplay for some, putting them in the mood for much more sexually stimulating activities when they get home. Whether a pastime, an excuse to get out of the house, a means to feeling less lonely, or a way to kill time, the "shopper's high" could, arguably, be the occasional quick-fix to a slump in one's libido. And, in addition to dopamine's influence on desire, the reason may be wonderfully selfish.
It has long been suspected that people shop when they're sad or feel badly about themselves, with research finding that we're more willing to spend when we feel low, depressed or miserable. Better known as "retail therapy," this escape from one's troubles involves people spending more on themselves, even if they don't have the money.
As confirmed in a 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a study involving 33 volunteers found that feelings of sadness lead to those of self-centeredness, which ultimately leads to a greater possibility of one spending more money on something that will act as a "pick me up." The increased degree of self-focus has been suggested as the reason for the overspending, especially in shopping for things that can make us feel better about ourselves and our look, like clothes.
Instead of devaluing ourselves, we enhance ourselves with more material goods. Spending also fills an inner void in shifting attention from what's going on inside to making one's outside more attractive. And that can have any of us feeling terribly sexy.