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Shackles for the Mind : The Dark Side of Consumerism

Consumerism is a plague upon the mind. It has a crippling effect on the psyche and influences our behavior in ways that most of us cannot even fathom. With the rise of digital media and fast fashion brands such as Shein and Temu, the global landscape has shifted entirely, increasing the variety of options made available to the average consumer. This comes with its own problems. The first, and perhaps most important one is the increase in dopamine-seeking behavior. Furthermore, social pressure encourages consumerism by placing an emphasis on appearances. What looks the best may not be the most sustainable, yet we seek it out. Consumer demand can be affected by various factors. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, loss aversion, the endowment effect, and various other phenomena play into this. With companies becoming more aware of the psychological aspect of consumer behavior, they have capitalized on basic human functions, playing with our emotions, cognitive processes, and even engaging the neurotransmitters within our brain. This is a vicious circle, a trap that most fall into, and are unaware of.


Despite being a complex system, our brain is often governed by very simple mechanisms. One such mechanism is the dopamine loop. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is often associated with happiness, or pleasure. It also pla

ys a hand in reinforcement and addiction. Certain events, occurrences, or objects can act as triggers for dopamine. This sudden momentary rus

h can serve as a key motivator, causing people to seek it out repeatedly, at any cost. While dopamine isn’t directly the cause of this pleasure, it does cause that link between the trigger and the following pleasurable feelings. It is responsible for seeking behavior and propels us to take action. Dopamine also goes hand in hand with developing tolerance. Just like drug addicts become more tolerant to a drug after using it for prolonged periods of time,

we also develop tolerance for such triggers, eventually seeking out larger quantities to feel the same rush.

The link between this and our daily lives is evident and has been backed by countless studies. Our phones. The digital world has a plethora of information and potential rewards to seek out. Our mind is capable of latching on to any one of them, be it a like on social media, a text back from someone we appreciate, or, in this case, the rush associated with online shopping. This system is not only affected by outcome but also cues. The mere anticipation of receiving something favorable can set off this chemical reaction. According to a report titled ‘Digital Dopamine’, 76%, 72%, and 82% of people in the USA, UK and China respectively have reported online shopping to be more exciting than physical, in-store shopping. The days spent in anticipation of the package, and the rush of finally receiving it add up, prompting us to make more purchases.

This mentality is exactly what companies capitalize on. This repeated cycle of seeking out dopamine releases is exactly what they wish to incite in the average consumer. A lack of this release has a damning effect on the individual, making them feel withdrawal, or even a mild state of panic. This develops a dependency. Attempts to stop can become painful. This behavior becomes almost second nature, to the extent that pharmacologic rises in dopamine levels become independent of the consequences they produce, serving as the sole motivating factor for behavior. Therefore, online shopping affects our minds in a very similar way to substance abuse.


This doesn't end here. Consumerism has an adverse effect on various aspects of the human mind. Endless scrolling and dependency on short bursts of dopamine have been linked to a reduced attention span, and a subsequent lack in critical thinking. Studies conducted by various universities and journals have backed this up. Consumerism, which functions along the lines of the same mechanism has the same effect.

Another important factor to consider is the marketing that the companies put forth to sell their products, and ensure that we remain trapped in this cycle. Marketers have evolved to place an emphasis on the cultivation of a carefully curated online persona, often referred to as "digital identity. This is a curated online personality that showcases a fashionable lifestyle that aligns with societal standards of beauty and being. The easiest way to sell a product is to solve a problem. When there isn't a problem, the easiest solution is to create one.

This leads to the development of an intricate online space that emphasises a culture of constant changes and trends in fashion, which is inexplicably interlinked with how worthy a person is. This culture is undoubtedly toxic to everyone who partakes in it, because it is an ideal that no one can achieve. Materialism lies at the heart of it. Self esteem issues become prevalent among such a population. Others put themselves through daunting routines and regimes, developing eating disorders as a result of maintaining the 'perfect figure', while others seek out the latest brands, purchasing clothes, bags, accessories and more to showcase their style and become more appealing to those consumed by this idea. Consumerism tries to portray an unrealistic ideal of everyday life, a dream that is directly associated with consuming goods and services. Furthermore, it encourages competition, the urge to 'one up' each other.

Rich consumer societies have been shown to consist of individuals that are suffering from higher rates of mental illnesses. The Global Burden of Disease statistics shows a steady increase in depression disorders in the United Kingdom, the United States and also Central Europe. These are the more prevalent hyper-consumer societies.


Consumerism is a destructive and insatiable phenomenon that feeds on people's insecurities by creating an ideal of a life that does not and can not exist. It is normalising this culture and the processes associated with it th

at ultimately is responsible for this damage. It is a temporary relief to these urges that have been fostered in us by the content that we consume, the grand web of marketing and advertisement that governs media. However, this urge can never truly be satiated. It can never be fulfilled. It only drives us to fill this hole with the latest version of whatever these companies are pushing out. Despite this relief being temporary, it is addicting. Breaking free of this trap requires careful introspection and a conscious reevaluation of the factors that motivate one to purchase an object or asset.

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