Shopping is a way of interacting with the world around us

June 2, 2008,

Our relationship with objects is multilayered and often very emotional, and this is expressed in the way we shop. Swedish ethnologist Erik Ottoson of Uppsala University has studied the way we look for things in shopping malls, town centres and flea markets, and even in skips.

"Being a consumer sometimes means fantasising and dreaming about objects, and this is boosted when we come face to face with things that arouse various feelings of attraction and resistance," says Ottoson, who has researched the way we look for things we want to acquire.

He has observed how people behave at flea markets, root through skips, make their way along shopping streets and through malls. According to Ottoson, searching in this way teaches us what is available and how we can track down what we are looking for. At the same time it becomes an opportunity to look inside ourselves and explore our feelings when faced with what is actually available.

"This means searching becomes a way for us to interact with the world around us, an experiental horizon where certain aspects loom large in the foreground while others are pushed into the background," he explains.

In particular, his research focuses on what is actually going on when we are "window shopping", i.e. strolling round and "just looking" at things without having a clear idea of what we are looking for. The people he has been studying search patiently for certain things, but more than anything, they are searching for the feeling of having found something that is better and finer that they could have imagined. At this point they have stretched the boundaries of what would be reasonable to expect to find.

The paper also shows that what we call just looking is not just about looking with your eyes, it involves your entire body – walking till your feet ache, picking things up and putting them back and feeling things with your hands.

"Meanwhile, you are waiting for that particular aha feeling you get when you find something you want – a peculiar combination of confirmation and surprise," says Ottoson.

Source: Uppsala University

Related Stories

Recommended for you

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

Brainwaves show how exercising to music bends your mind

February 18, 2018
Headphones are a standard sight in gyms and we've long known research shows listening to tunes can be a game-changer for your run or workout.

New approaches in neuroscience show it's not all in your head

February 16, 2018
Our own unique experiences shape how we view the world and respond to the events in our lives. But experience is highly subjective. What's distressing or joyful to one person may be very different to another.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

People find comfort listening to the same songs over and over, study finds

February 16, 2018
With the frequency that some people play their favorite song, it's a good thing vinyl records aren't used often because they might wear out.

Ketamine found to reduce bursting in brain area reducing depression quickly

February 15, 2018
A team of researchers at Zhejiang University in China has found that the drug ketamine reduces neuronal bursting in the lateral habenula (LHb) brain region, reducing symptoms of depression in rodent models. In their paper ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.