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The Secret Science Behind Coupons

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As we wrap up the holiday shopping season, it’s safe to say coupons played a role, from retailers trying to lure shoppers with coupon codes to consumers perusing coupon websites to find codes to slash subtotals at the checkout page.

And even though coupon redemption fell almost 23% in the third quarter of 2012, according to technology company Inmar, the firm expects greater coupon use during the fourth quarter, which of course includes the holiday shopping season.

If you were part of these statistics and ditched the laborious task of coupon hunting, it’s time to rethink your strategy — especially from a psychological standpoint.

While coupons save us money, we don’t normally associate coupons with reducing stress. Research from Coupons.com and Dr. Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont Graduate University, shows the science behind coupons and equates the experience of using a coupon with a social activity.

In the study, 35 participants were asked to shop for groceries online and only half were given a coupon code. “We saw a 38% increase in oxytocin for those who received the coupons and no increase for those who didn’t. This means people view this online coupon as a social interaction — as a gift,” Zak says. (Oxytocin has been called the “love hormone.”)

Participants armed with coupons also saw a 5% drop in heart rate and lower palm sweat levels.

Another surprising result from the study: Coupon codes spawn more excitement than a wedding. One of Zak’s recent studies involved how oxytocin levels affected a bride during her wedding — up 28%, considerably less than the activity of getting an online coupon.

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