It was a humid, sticky 90 degrees when I made a quick trip to the grocery store in shorts and a tank top earlier this week. Despite the heat, however, the store clearly wanted me to think fall.
|'Tis the season. ParentingPatch (Wikimedia Commons)|
At the risk of sounding any more like Forrest Gump's shrimp-obsessed friend Bubba, let’s just say that we’ve all gone a little mad. And with the official release of everyone’s favorite – the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte – this past Tuesday, it’s time we ask: why are we so obsessed with pumpkin spice everything?
|NOOOOOO. Joel Kramer (Flickr)|
During the first investigation of this theory in 1966, psychologist Jack Brehm studied the effects of product unavailability on its attractiveness to consumers. Participants were asked to listen to and rate four music records. Afterward, they were told that they were allowed to keep one. One group of participants was also informed, however, that the record they rated as their third choice was unfortunately unavailable because it went missing during shipment. When asked to re-evaluate their ratings, 67% of participants ranked the missing record higher than they had previously.
Marketers have known this for years. We’ve all seen commercials for products being offered for a “limited time only!” or felt more motivated to go shopping for new clothes when a snazzy “30% off, only good through Sunday” coupon shows up in the newspaper. We might prefer to eat regular Oreos, but knowing that pumpkin spice Oreos are only around for a few weeks makes the latter choice more appealing to us. “Get it before it’s gone!”
Everyone else is doing it
When it comes to the pumpkin spice craze, there’s certainly a bit of social influence at play. Sure, pumpkin spice is good, but so are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, apple cinnamon, and caramel. But when your Instagram feed is filled with friends wielding their first Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the season, or when everyone in your 2pm coffee break group decides to go for a PSL, you’re probably more likely to get one, too.
|Tabercil (Wikimedia Commons)|
Of course, you aren’t going to be ostracized by society if you choose peanut M&Ms over pumpkin spice at the grocery store. But when it comes to any craze – slap bracelets, Beanie Babies, the Macarena, and pumpkin spice – it makes us happy and secure to feel included with the rest of society.
It makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside
Dead leaves falling to the ground, early sunsets, and the gray chill of the impending winter months don’t exactly inspire positive feelings toward autumn. But when we attach meaning to fall – the start of school, new leather boots, big cozy scarves, and holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving – it’s significantly more enjoyable.
Like hot cocoa, fuzzy sweaters, and apple picking, the pumpkin spice flavor has become synonymous with autumn. Our desire to return to the crisp fall air during a blizzard or heat wave is also accompanied, for many of us, by our nostalgic feelings toward pumpkin spice everything.
The sugar makes our brains happy
It helps that most pumpkin spice products are superbly sweet. As I’ve previously written, our brains are strongly wired to respond to the taste of sugar and other carbohydrates. Of course, not all products do justice to the pumpkin spice brand – like comedian John Oliver says, some truly taste like a candle might taste. (I won’t mention any names.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go reward myself for writing this article with a Pumpkin Spice Latte. And, yes, I’ll admit that I was first in line on Tuesday – despite the thermometer reading 95 degrees at the time of my purchase.