Conditioning Christmas Shoppers

Larry Price
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Wednesday - December 13, 2006
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The holiday season is upon us once again. People are feeling festive, decorations abound, the weather has cooled and the mega-shopping has begun. Reflecting on the season, one begins to wonder about an underlying subliminal persuasion that occurs at this time of year.

Consider this. The day after Thanksgiving is now know as “Black Friday.” It is usually the biggest shopping day of the year. Notice what accompanies this new day on the calendar? Christmas songs! They are played in the malls, even through Christmas is still a month away. Christmas songs are heard on the radio 24/7 and considered “good” programming. They’re played in homes and businesses as people decorate their Christmas trees that were purchased right after the Thanksgiving Day celebration was over.


I have come to the conclusion that there is strong and convincing evidence that there is a subliminal persuasion conspiracy that happens which fuels the human response to spend money. From the time we are young cherubs, most of us are taught that Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. We have learned that Christmas evokes happy, warm and fuzzy feelings within most people. Christmas songs represent the season and are associated with these happy, warm and fuzzy feelings.

Christmas is a time of giving, not only giving of ourselves, but the giving of presents and gifts to place under colorfully decorated Christmas trees. If we pair a stimulus, such as a Christmas tune, to the general feelings of happiness and giving during Christmas, we elicit a response, perhaps an urge to be generous and buy presents for people.

Pavlov was the “father” of classical conditioning, and his experiments with dogs are well known in the field of psychology. Pavlovian-speaking, perhaps humans are conditioned to feel the urge to spend money while Christmas songs are played throughout the stores, on the radio and other venues.

The Pavlovian response is not altogether a negative thing.

Christmas is a time of joy and anticipation. In that spirit, people flock to stores and malls to purchase gifts to show their affection and appreciation. That’s a good thing.

However, when people stand in line for hours, sometimes days, to purchase an item, such as a Play Station 3, one begins to wonder how Pavlovian conditioning has gone awry. After all, no one would stand in line for hours to purchase the Hooked on Phonics DVD.

Has our learned behavior to spend and be generous during Christmas taken a turn for the worse? Have we become overly conditioned that we obsess about buying the “perfect” gift? It’s a point to ponder.


I’m not being critical of spending money during the Christmas season. I just wonder if the conspiracy to spend is also fueled by merchants who are hoping that patrons stimulate the economy, as well as their bottom line.

Have you ever heard the merchants’ favorite mantra during the Christmas holiday season? It says over and over again that the merchants are hoping for a good shopping season, because they make half of their gross revenue for the entire year during the Christmas shopping season. Their message is part of the Pavlovian conditioning that has been going on for years.

Christmas displays and songs permeating through stores and malls earlier and earlier each year does seem to reinforce Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning. But far be it from me to criticize a time of giving, joy and peace.

So with apologies to Pavlov, go forth and spread the Christmas spirit, doggone it.

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