The biology behind the coupon craze

The biology behind the coupon craze

There’s a coupon craze.

I’m convinced that the internet, reality tv, and a little something-something are working together to perpetuate the frenzy.

On the internet, there are blogs devoted to coupon savings. There are websites for coupon clipping services. There are sites devoted to distributing paperless coupons. It’s raining coupons in digital heaven.

On tv, there’s Extreme Couponing. In our household, we use an over the air antenna for tv watching. This means we get some basic channels, which aren’t known for reality tv. However, I watched some clips of the show off its website. People are telling their couponing stories and showing their stockpiles. I got a happy high (and envy) just from the snippets.

And the something, something? Well, I already gave you a clue. The high. The better mood. There’s an actual change in people’s bodies from using coupons. These results were revealed in a recent experiment published in the Journal of Marketing.1

In the experiment, men and women shopped online for groceries. After spending $70, the researcher gave half the participants a physical coupon that saved them $10, and the other half received absolutely nothing.

The participants wore electrodes to measure brain activity during the experiment. The participants also donated blood at the beginning and end of this experiment.

Those who received a coupon as compared to those who did not were more relaxed. Specifically, the coupon group showed:

  • a 4% decrease in heart rate,
  • a 27% decrease in respiration,
  • a 4% decrease in skin conductance levels,
  • a 90% increase in high-frequency heart rate variability, and
  • an 8% decrease in the fast acting stress hormone adrenocorticotropin.

Not only were the couponers moving towards a zen state, they showed a significant increase (14%) in the feel-good hormone and neurotransmitter, oxytocin. You may have heard of it. Oxytocin floods the systems of new lovers during the first six months. Oxytocin is also released during sexual intercourse and has been associated with pro-social behaviour such as trust and generosity. Good moods all around when oxytocin is in the house.

In line with the oxytocin data, a self-reported mood measure showed an increase in happiness correlated with an increase in oxytocin for those who received a coupon but not for those who simply shopped.

Now, coupons are easier to get than ever. This means saving money is within your reach … but not only that … according to this new study, so is a cheap high.



Veronika, A., Tripp, S., & Paul J. Zak, P. J. (2015). Preliminary evidence for the neurophysiologic effects of online coupons: Changes in oxytocin, stress, and mood. Psychology of Marketing, 32, 977-986.

Image Attribution

Clipped Coupons With Scissors 2” by Chris Potter. CC by 2.0.