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How stores like Forever 21 trick your brain into buying more
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Neuroscience studies have shown that pleasure centers in the brain activate when shoppers find items on sale. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Neuroscience research holds an important message for shoppers looking to add a few new pieces to their spring wardrobe: the brain can't always be trusted.

Studies have shown that pleasure centers in the brain are activated by the act of searching for new clothes and again by finding an item shoppers perceive as a bargain, The Atlantic reported this week. In an age of "fast fashion," in which stores like Forever 21 and H&M profit from prioritizing low price over quality, people easily fall into a trap of feeling great about buying clothing items that will wear out quickly, or even pieces they had no business buying in the first place.

"Fast fashion perfectly feeds (the) neurological process. First, the clothing is incredibly cheap, which makes it easy to buy. Second, new deliveries to stores are frequent, which means customers always have something new to look at and desire," The Atlantic reported.

The article drew heavily from a 2007 research study that used images of shoppers' brains to determine which aspects of shopping hold the highest emotional payoff. According to the researchers, most purchases are made only after the brain has determined that the pleasure of owning something new outweighs the pain of spending money.

Fast fashion capitalizes on this process, making it hard for even smart shoppers to say no to pieces on sale.

In that way, it's made shopping into a form of entertainment, making people fixate on finding something to buy, rather than buying the right thing, The Atlantic reported.

"(Shopping) is no longer just a transaction, a way to procure necessities or luxuries, but rather has become an end in itself," the article noted.

As fashion industry insiders told Deseret News National in September, escaping the world of fast fashion is difficult, because the transition requires people to not just train their brain to resist low-priced pieces, but also be more intentional about their personal style. Stylist Jordan Duncan said she helps her clients think critically about every detail of their wardrobe, selecting pieces that can be worn and enjoyed for years.

"If you do put in the time and thought, you're going to have a wardrobe that's really curated and beautiful," Duncan said, adding that the end result makes initial "sticker shock," or concern about higher prices, worth it.

The shift in shopping style also pays off in big ways for the environment, The Atlantic reported.

"Secondhand stores receive more clothes than they can manage and landfills are overstuffed with clothing and shoes that don't break down easily," its article noted. By being conscientious about what they purchase, people can limit the number of pieces they end up throwing in the trash.