I'd like to say that my online shopping was worse over the last year and a half than it's ever been. In all honesty, it's definitely always been at the caliber it's at, the pandemic really didn't change that.

But, for many people, online shopping became the only way to really purchase what was needed safely, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it became a lot easier to spend more money than budgeted when making purchases online.

In response to the massive uptick in online shopping during COVID, University of Northern Colorado faculty members Daniel Brannon and Moe Manshad have begun experimenting with new technology that is supposed to help curb online spending.

What exactly does the technology do?

The technology itself is a 3-D printed vibration motor controller that can be attached to your phone. The theory behind the device was the psychological response it could trigger in consumers that when you're about to make the purchase and feel the device vibrate, will it trigger the same response as when you get a text or social media notification?

They tracked the difference in consumers between shopping in person and shopping online and how not having things immediately at your fingertips while shopping in-store actually helps curb your spending habits.

So, the vibration was supposed to replace the loss of physicality when shopping online and maybe trigger a mental response to a physical feeling behind shopping online. This way, it triggers a sort of awareness of spending like you would have when physically handing over a credit card.

Did it work in studies during the development process?

160 lucky - or unlucky depending on existing personal spending habits - were invited to be the sample for the experiment. They alternated between students, giving them either no vibration, a low-intensity vibration, or a high-intensity vibration.

And they actually saw a difference.

It's so bizarre how the human brain works. The low-intensity vibrations actually made students in the experiment less likely to spend money. Why? Because low-intensity cues are linked to danger, tension, and threat. Think really low, ominous background music in scary movies.

The high intensity actually made those in the experiment more likely to spend money because of the excitement aspect associated with things that happen at a higher frequency.

What's next for the device?

Brannon and Manshad plan to introduce programs and courses in the university that would involve the newfound technology. In the next one or two years, they hope to launch a one- or two-part class.

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