Black Friday the psychology of getting a deal, and how to stress less

By Huffington Post Staff

The big shopping day of the year has finally arrived: Black Friday is here.

For many people, the thrill of the hunt is motivation enough to endure overcrowded parking lots, 4 a.m. lines and crushing amounts of people. But for others, it seems ludicrous that people would willingly wake up at an ungodly hour to wade through crowds and snatch up items that may only continue to go down in price as the holidays draw nearer.

So why do we do it? What is it in our brains that makes the positive outweigh the negative when we decide it's worth it to venture out for Black Friday?

People love getting a deal, and they focus on that part -- not the discomfort, says Laura Brannon, a professor of psychology at Kansas State University.

"Part of it is that people get caught up in the arousal and excitement of the event, and that keeps them from thinking clearly about the other consequences" like the wait, Brannon tells HuffPost. "Also, once they've committed to going (before they've actually even experienced the discomfort and inconvenience), they start to rationalize their negative experience" by convincing themselves with inner dialogue like "It's not that bad," or "I've already waited this long."

Brannon notes that two general principles often drive our desire to wait in unbearably long lines for sales. The first, called the scarcity principle, involves us thinking that we need to get our paws on something that is rare, can run out at any moment, or is hard to get.

"People truly want to get a good deal, and so they might be less rational … when they can look in the environment and find different cues that make them think they're getting a good deal," Kenneth Manning, a marketing professor at Colorado State University, told LiveScience. "The decision-making can be somewhat emotional."

The second principle is called the social proof principle, and it involves us thinking that if other people are also waiting in line for something, it mustbe good.

And while Brannon acknowledged that some stores do offer good deals on Black Friday, people more often get "caught up in their own excitement, and that's what drives them more than the actual deals themselves."

So how can we avoid getting swept away in the Black Friday frenzy? Brannon suggests reminding yourself why you're shopping in the first place, and to remember that the pressure to "buy now, or else" is really just imposed by clever marketers.

"People should remember that their excitement is partly caused by the scarcity of the opportunity and what other people are doing (rather than just the quality of the opportunity itself), so they should not let that stress affect them too much," Brannon says. "Marketers have created the situation. Maybe focusing on the spirit of the season (giving and being thankful for whatever we have) would help people keep things in perspective."

And for people who just must buy that item-of-the-moment, Brannon suggests reminding them that pleasure that comes from buying and receiving is very short-lived.

"Most people have probably had the experience of really wanting something for a long time, and then, before they know it, they're bored with it or take it for granted. Kids do this very quickly, but it happens for adults as well," she says.

Instead, she suggested focusing more on sharing experiences with people, or putting a lot of thought into choosing the perfect gift, instead of feeling the pressure to just buy the latest and greatest.

"Research really does show that there's something to the idea of 'it's the thought that counts,'" Brannon says. "The idea that someone cared enough to do something for us lasts a lot longer, usually, than the good feelings of receiving the particular gift."