January 28, 2013

Smell and memory: Old feelings in a new place

My friend texted me something today that she thought I'd find interesting.

She had a meeting for work in an office she'd never entered before. Immediately as she entered the room, conflicting feelings of happiness and awkwardness washed over her.

The smell. It wasn't necessarily good or bad—just distinctive. And it didn't smell like anything in particular. All she knew was that it had an odor exactly like her boyfriend's dorm room when she was a freshman in college—something she hasn't experienced in five years—bringing back the paired feelings of excitement and nervousness that come with new relationships. And those of, well, being in a boy's stinky dorm room.

We've all experienced this at one time or another: a familiar perfume, a family recipe in the oven, the scent of a bonfire—they all bring back a flood of memories, momentarily whisking us away to re-live our past. But why does this happen?

January 3, 2013

How stores trick our senses to make us buy more (Part 2 of 5: Sight)

The weekend before Christmas, I was sucked into a giant, enticing vortex of craving and desire, stuck for hours with the inability to leave—my only limitation being my wallet.

In other words, I went to Target.

And—again, in other words—I was like a bull in a China shop.

Back in 2009, Target introduced new gigantic, plastic, Playskool-esque shopping carts. Maneuvering the aisles is like passing a car on a one-lane country road in a Hummer.

Of course they're ridiculously cumbersome, but it's all a trick on the Target executives' part—the bigger your cart, the more you can fit in there. You'll look silly hauling around a couple packages of pens and a box of tissues to the checkout counter, after all. Better head to the appliance section and fill it with a microwave or plasma TV.

In this second installment, we'll explore how stores betray our sense of sight, tricking us to buy stuff we really don't want or need.