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CGU researchers discover that coupons can make shoppers happier and more relaxed

Monday, November 26, 2012

Researchers from Claremont Graduate University (CGU's) Center for Neuroeconomic Studies have discovered evidence to suggest that coupons can help make shoppers happy and relaxed.

Their new study, “Your Brain on Coupons: Neurophysiology of Couponing” is the first known scientific research performed in a laboratory setting measuring the physiological and psychological effects of coupons on the human body. The study, expected to be formally published in the coming months, is based on research conducted by Professor Paul Zak and his team, who are widely credited for popularizing neuroeconomics and studying the effects of hormone oxytocin.
Zak’s team looked at the neurologic effects of couponing to find out what really happens when people receive a savings offer, such as a coupon or coupon code. They found that oxytocin, a hormone that is directly related to love and happiness, spikes when people receive a coupon, and, in fact, increases more than when people receive a gift. The data shows that coupons make consumers happier and more relaxed, underscoring that the holidays don’t have to be as stressful as people think.

“The study proves that not only are people who get a coupon happier, less stressed and experience less anxiety, but also that getting a coupon—as hard as it is to believe—is physically shown to be more enjoyable than getting a gift,” Zak said. “These results, combined with the findings of other research, suggest that coupons can directly impact happiness of people, promote positive health and increase the ability to handle stressful situations, all of which is particularly valuable as we head into the holiday season when stress levels tend to be at an all-time high.”

Zak launched the study at the request of In it, half of the participants received a $10 coupon while grocery shopping online while others did not.

Effects of the coupon were evaluated through multiple measures—including the level of hormones in the blood, cardiac activity (using an electrocardiogram), respiration and perspiration (similar to a polygraph test) and mood relating to the receipt of coupons. The physiologic data was acquired one thousand times a second to compare participants’ responses to coupons to those who did not receive coupons. The hormone data, taken before and after shopping (with and without coupons), complements the physiologic data to determine the overall social experience of using coupons.
The researchers discovered that subjects who received coupons had 38 percent higher oxytocin level, a response that is higher than levels associated with kissing, cuddling and other social interactions related to this hormone that is known to be associated with happiness. Coupons were also associated with reductions in several different measures of stress in the heart, skin, and breathing in those who received them over those who did not. Specifically:

    •  Respiration rates fell 32 percent compared to those who did not get a coupon.
    •  Heart rates dropped 5 percent from 73 beats per minute to 70 beats per minute.
    •  Sweat levels on the palms of the hands were 20 times lower for those who received a coupon.
Participants who received coupons were 11 percent happier than participants who did not get coupons. This was measured by participants rating how happy they were on a scale from 1 to 10 at the end of the experiment.

The experiment was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Claremont Graduate University. Participants were paid for participating in the study, and participants who received a coupon were paid the face value of the discount.


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