Feeling relaxed? Don’t shop

An interesting new paper in the Journal of Marketing Research explores the effect of relaxation on consumer behavior. People who feel relaxed spend far more easily than those who feel less at ease. It turns out that relaxation increases the monetary valuation of products “rather than a deflation of value by less-relaxed individuals.”

Jonah Lehrer comments on the findings in a Wired column:

Why does relaxation turn us into spendthrifts? When we feel safe, we are better able to fully focus on the potential rewards at stake. Instead of worrying about price, we can contemplate the advantages of having a sophisticated camera, or the thrill of falling through the air. As the psychologists demonstrated in subsequent experiments, those subjects who were more relaxed thought less about particulars – the specific cost of the gadget or the dangers of the risky behavior – and more about the abstract pleasures they were trying to purchase.

And this returns us to casinos. At first glance, casinos are faced with a daunting psychological challenge: they have to persuade people to play games in which the odds are stacked against them. They have to convince their customers that losing money to a random number generator or a pair of dice is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Given this intimidating mission, casinos need all the help they can get, which is why they’ve long been interested in design. The casinos know that architecture has cognitive consequences, influencing our mood and spending decisions.

The problem for Vegas is that, for decades, they subscribed to the wrong model of design. They assumed that the way to get people to take outlandish risks was to trap them inside the building, to make it too difficult to leave. But that was almost certainly a big mistake. Why? Because claustrophobic and confusing rooms aren’t relaxing. Instead of being put at ease, we end up slightly anxious, all too aware of the fact that we are losing money to a machine, that we just got fleeced by the house.

Jonah Lehrer is the author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist.