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With the warmer weather finally beginning to roll in, Canadians are hitting the malls in droves looking to update their spring wardrobes.

But have you ever noticed that during these shopping trips, you tend to come home with a lot more than you needed? Maybe those items were on sale, or maybe they were sitting next to a fancy, flashing display. We look for all kinds of explanations to justify bringing home useless junk we never needed, because the feeling of wasting money creeps up on us like a bad hangover. One moment you’re like this:

Shopping

And the next moment, like this:

Hangover

Well here’s something that should help sober you up: A new study from Ohio State University found that we’re buying junk because it’s coated in bright colours.

That’s right, the brighter an item on the shelf, the more likely we are to impulsively buy it. Colours, it turns out, actually seem to limit a person’s focus on a product altogether by blocking out realistic concerns like, you know, cost, practicality or even functionality.

Which means our little comparison with drinking earlier was bang on: bright colours pretty much make us drunk. They make us stop thinking rationally and contribute to bad decision making.

In fact, in one part of the study, 94 college students were asked to prepare for a hypothetical camping trip at a remote site where they could only pick up one station. They were asked to choose between two products: a basic analogue radio receiver and a fancy digital model.

The digital model, fyi, featured buttons that would be useless on a camping trip.

When the students were shown black and white photos of both models, most chose the practical analogue radio (25 per cent chose the digital model). But when a separate group were shown coloured photos, about half chose the fancier model.

“Colour drew their focus away from the most important features to the less important features, and their choice shifted to the more expensive radio,” said Xiaoyan Deng, who helped author the study and is an assistant professor of marketing at the university. “I think that’s surprising — that just by manipulating whether the product presentation is in colour or black and white, we can affect people’s choice.”

Interestingly, another part of the study had participants sort footwear using the same formula. Those who saw shoes in black and white tended to sort by functionality, such as separating high heels from rain boots. But when colours were introduced, the participants tended to group solid colours with other solids, and polka dots with other fancy patterns.

“Color images help us notice details,” Deng said. “But black-and-white images let us see the ‘big picture’ without getting bogged down by those details.”

So what can you do to stop this phenomenon? Well, the next time you’re wandering through a mall, picture everything in black and white.

Because pretty soon, you won’t be seeing anything but green.