Research shows that shopping really can help us feel better when we’re down—though most of us probably don’t need a study to tell us that. Whether we tend to scroll through the sales section of our favorite outlet’s website or leisurely browse local brick-and-mortar stores (though perhaps less of the latter lately), most of us have experienced the pleasure of retail therapy.

Scientifically speaking, shopping gives us a big ol’ boost of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. That’s why impulse spending gives us such a buzz.

Impulse spending simply refers to making an unplanned purchase, regardless of our mood. Retail therapy, on the other hand, refers specifically to shopping when we’re in a negative mood. But, dopamine aside, what is it about the shopping experience that lifts our spirits? And why do we turn to shopping in the first place?

That’s just part of what a 2010 study by Minjeong Kang and Kim K.P. Johnson explores. The study provides insight into people’s general therapeutic shopping patterns. That insight can help us better understand our own retail therapy habits. Although the study was about shopping in person, it’s possible to draw some parallels with online shopping, too. Let’s take a look.

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