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The psychology of a cranky trip to Costco

‘It’s almost competition with other consumers to find that treasure,’ says professor

By Paul Karchut, CBC News Posted: Apr 20, 2017 6:00 PM MT


Shopping at bog box stores like Costco might make some people cranky, but its revenues in Canada are on this rise — around $17 billion US annually — and it’s opening seven more stores across the country this year. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

Shoppers scurry across a Costco parking lot in Calgary with colossal carts full of jumbo toilet paper and pork tenderloins by the dozen.

Many of them don’t seem particularly thrilled to be there.

Bonnie, one such shopper, admits the whole experience has made her rather cranky.

“It’s the way other people act. It gets to me and then I become part of the problem. Some days are pretty good. Today I wasn’t in the mood,” she said.

She’s not alone. It turns out we’re hard wired to act like hunter-gatherers when we get into big box crowds.

The battle for a parking spot, the lineups outside the store, the oversized carts clogging up the aisles — it’s enough to put even the most seasoned Costco shopper on edge. Yet they are willing to buy a membership just to shop there.

Bargain Hunting

Bargain hunting gives many shoppers an adrenaline rush that’s very similar to the one we get in competitive sport, according to one researcher. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

And there are plenty of Costco shoppers in Canada.

With revenue from its Canadian operations ringing it at $17 billion US last year, versus $86.6 billion in the U.S., the company makes significantly more, on a per-capita basis, on this side of the border.

So what happens to otherwise pleasant Canadians when they cross that threshold into the big box world?

Bargain shopping adrenaline rush

Bargain hunting gives many shoppers an adrenaline rush that’s very similar to the one we get in competitive sport, says Nancy Puccinelli, a marketing professor at the University of Bath who holds a psychology degree from Harvard.

“We actually refer to it as the treasure hunt phenomenon. It’s almost competition with other consumers to find that treasure.”

So you’re not so much shopping with people, you’re shopping against them.

Puccinelli says the layout of Costco stores just makes everything worse.

“If you think of the types of carts they’re making available to people, the layout, that does make it more difficult to find things. We know that customers don’t like really high shelves.

typical Costco shopper earns $30,000 to $40,000 more than average

Research has shown that people don’t go to Costco because they need to save money. Instead, a typical Costco shopper earns $30,000 to $40,000 more than average. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

And in fact, one of the things that CVS [an American pharmacy chain] did was make a conscious decision to lower the height of their shelves because they knew that 80 per cent of their customers were women. And so even though they knew they were taking a huge loss on inventory, they did it because they knew their customers preferred it aesthetically.”

Group polarization

While there are bargains to be found at other grocery chains for those looking to bring out their inner-primitive competitive streak, the Costco experience stands out as particularly aggravating on a busy day due to the crowds.

Crowd dynamics are something that Wendy James, who holds a PhD in psychology, has written about before.

“A common psychological term is group polarization. It’s the tendency for people in crowding areas and groups to become more extreme in their views. There’s a theory called contagious theory. They become irrational and emotional. And their charged behaviour becomes a crowd frenzy.”


To help deal with shopper emotions, retail environments are painstakingly designed by many big chain stores. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

To help deal with these emotions, retail environments are painstakingly designed by many big chain stores. Mellow music, for example, has been found to relax shoppers in busy environments. Less busy stores have seen improved sales while upbeat music plays in the background.

Costco shoppers have higher salaries

Other big box stores are finding creative ways to keep the cranky factor down, too.

Another store known for big crowds, The Real Canadian Superstore, introduced its click and collect program a few years back. People order their groceries online and then for a small fee, they are delivered to your car right in front of the store.

The uptake has been even bigger than expected, with shoppers buying three to four times more stuff online than if they go into the store, according to Superstore’s parent company.

But one thing that might surprise you about the average Costco shopper is that even though they love the thrill of the bargain, Puccinelli’s research shows that people don’t go to Costco because they need to save money.

Instead, a typical Costco shopper earns $30,000 to $40,000 more than average, which is why we’re seeing more high-end products like pine nuts, organic olive oil and pomegranate juice. Celebrity child molesters: Is their fame a factor?

“Sons of Guns” star Will Hayden was arrested on Wednesday on charges of aggravated rape for allegedly sexually abusing a minor “almost daily.”

Former “Cake Boss” cast member Remy Gonzales is currently serving 9 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

Lostprophets rocker Ian Watkins was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison after he was found guilty of multiple child sex abuse charges, including trying to rape a baby.

Of course only a tiny fraction of those committing this kind of heinous crimes are famous, but experts say fame can be a factor with celebrities who prey on children.

“Of course every situation is unique, but today when we look at the stars… we hear it all the time, that they begin to abuse their positions,” said Dr. Wendy James, who focuses on the early diagnosis and treatment of psychological issues. “As a society we tend to glorify stars…and society sees them as doing no wrong and a lot of time I see the frequency of narcissistic behavior in stars.”

She said that can lead to stars acting out in sexually inappropriate ways, with child molestation being an extreme situation.

“We allow stars to start to feel like they are above the law or above certain behavior,” she added.

Dr. Fred Berlin, the director of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit, said there is no definitive statistic that shows pedophiles are more prevalent among Hollywood’s elite.

“I don’t know of any evidence that it’s more common among celebrity than others,” he told FOX411. “I think we pay more attention to it and are sort of more surprised in many ways because we think [we know these people based on what we see on TV].”

So does their a celebrity’s status simply bring their awful behavior into the limelight?

“They are scrutinized if something is found out,” said James, while Berlin noted that celebrity abuse cases get much more attention than the average sex crime.

“Most of these cases get a certain amount of attention, and the public is rightfully concerned and when people are arrested in their local community,” he said. “It becomes a bigger, national story when someone is arrested who is a celebrity.”

And the stars mentioned above are not the first to be accused of sexual misconduct against children. Here are five more celebrities slammed with sex abuse allegations:

  • Peter Yarrow of the musical group Peter, Paul and Mary was convicted of taking “improper liberties” with a 14-year-old girl in 1970. Yarrow, who served 3 months in jail was later granted a presidential pardon in 1981 from former President Jimmy Carter.
  • A mother who appeared on TLC’s “Cheer Perfection pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree sexual assault and engaging a child in sexually explicit conduct. Andrew Clevenger received a two 10-year prison sentence and two 10-year suspended sentences for her sexual encounters with a 13-year-old boy.
  • Comedienne Paula Poundstone was charged with three counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a girl under the age of 14 in 2001. She was found guilty of a felony child endangerment charge for driving while intoxicated with children in the car. She pleaded no contest to avoid jail time as part of a plea that placed her on probation for 5 years.
  • Once a judge on “America’s Best Dance Crew” and a choreographer on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Shane Sparks was charged with six counts of a lewd act on a child and two counts of oral copulation of a person under 16. His attorney called the claims “extortion” and claimed Sparks’ accuser of only coming forward due to Sparks’ fame. He pleaded not guilty in 2010 and again in 2011 on a single felony count of having unlawful sex with a minor. He eventually accepted a plea deal which sentenced him to 270 days in the country jail, five years of provation and 52 sessions of sex-offender counseling.
  • MTV’s “Jackass” spin-off “Viva La Bam” star Vincent “Don Vito” Margera was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault on a child in 2007. Margera had been accused inappropriately touching one 14-year-old and two 12-year-olds at an autograph signing at a Colorado mall in August 2006.

Popular Science Radio

Sticks and Stones | SEGMENT 5 | #209

Dr. Wendy JamesBullying can make scars that are more than skin deep. President and Founder of Life Consultants Inc., Dr. Wendy James, discusses the lasting effects of bullying. Then, we talk about Dr. Wendy’s latest book, “The Princess Chronicles: A Bedside Companion.”




Have you accepted the role of chronic victim? We speak with Dr. Wendy James about the bullying ripple effect.

POV – Constant Bullying may have a Mental Health and Academic Affect on Children over Time

Previous surveys on bullying indicate 70% of middle and high school students experience bullying. Most of us have been bullied. 20-40% report having bullied or been part of bullying during the school year.

First bullying in schools is unacceptable. As a psychologist and former high school teacher, bullying is serious. The difficulty is focusing on children’s social life of rejection by peers, group recognition, few friends, when bullying is aggressive and constant. There is no doubt constant bullying may have a mental health and academically affect children over time.

The research from Boston Children’s Hospital is one of the few longitudinal studies on bullying and mental health. This study is significant in that it followed 4300 children over a five-year period with computer generated questions in the home in 5th, 7th and 10th grade. The results found 30% had been bullied.

This study indicated bullying is more likely to result in deterioration in poor mental health and often leads to poor academic performance in the student bullied.

What is the definition of bullying? As children, we all experience bullying as a normal part of growing up. How often it occurs is part of studies, which define bullying.

The limitation of this study is in the lack of definition for bullying and there is no causal relationship that directly links bullying and mental health problems.

Peer Harassment is an issue. If it is physical contact, it is threatening behavior. If it is verbal only, it is contingent on the child’s perception of the situation of the “bullying” that occurred.

The worst effect is continuous bullying.

As a psychologist, the question arises in regards to the definition of bullying. What is the relationship related to the psychological effect on the child who is being bullied? Could it be the psyche of the victim? Therefore, are esteem, confidence and mental health affected? Does bullying lead to mental health issues, particularly in depression, and suicidal thoughts?

In a normal process of growing up, most of us experience bullying. We all have an experience that we remember and learn from. It stays with us.

Yet, it does not have long-term effects on our mental health and academic achievement. Many normal children learn to find and form their supportive peer groups.

The question is why does bullying for some children have a devastating effect and does not enable them to handle the rite of passage pre-teens go through?

First, there is no profile of who will be a bully. Sometimes they are regular students.

Bullying has become more prevalent over the years. Suicide has occurred in a small minority of those, who are bullied. With the text messages, Facebook and cyber-technology, bullying is a bigger problem. If it becomes personal, threatening and approaches physical abuse it is serious.

This study indicates that continuous bullying may cause serious mental health issues, low esteem, anxiety, depression, and lower academic success in the object of the bullying.

The difficulty is there is no “cause and affect” linkage. The bullying and school climate are linked. It is necessary to continue research and have programs to acknowledge the seriousness of bullying, while developing clearer definitions and defined psychological aspects of what, how and why bullying leads to overwhelming behaviors on those being bullied.

POV – The Changing American Family

A report just out by the New York Times indicates our traditional family is changing. Today, blended family is encompassing husbands, wives and children from various marriages and ex-spouses and ex-partners in varying degrees.

First, the report indicates “families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago – than even half a year ago”.

America is about diversity; Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and Lesbians & Gays to name a few groups are part of what we have grown up with today. The fastest growing immigrant groups to American are not Latinos but Asians.

Asian Americans are exceptionally stable, “they are less likely to be divorce than Americans in general” (16% infants out of wedlock, compared to 41% over all and 80% raised by two parents versus 63% overall; Pew Research).

As a psychologist, I find that we are in a society where diversity is accepted and unlike a generation ago we have grown up with all ethical, racial, religious, and stylistic diversity. What is troubling is how it affects our children and our life.

There is often a debate whether this is a positive or negative change. Yet, the decline of the two-parent household has affected the income of single parents. New York Times study indicated 63% of children live in a household with two parents. The majority of single parents are single mothers. There is evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fair particularly poorly”.

A few more statistics in this study:
-More than 40% of American babies are born to unmarried women, most in their 20s and 30s
-The traditional family of stable married parents with their children is educated elite
-Believe in romance – yes – hearing the word “family” answers were Love, Kids, Mom, and Dinner
-72% of adults under 30 view the ideal marriage as husband and wife both work and share in childcare
-28% of married women are more educated than their spouse
-Divorce is declining and the decline is for middle and upper middle income couples with college degrees
-Increase in out of wedlock births has occurred for all but the highly educated woman
-Men and women are waiting later to marry (men 28, women 26-27)

In summary, go to college, build finances, marry, build more finances, have children does build confidence in yourself and the ability to survive and to succeed.

POV: How to Deal with Toxic People


As a psychologist I deal with “toxic” people. “Toxic” people can be due to addiction, depression, grief and loss, and loneliness. The difficulty for family and friends is how to deal with “toxic” people. First is to realize we need to help those with depression receive the treatment they need and having friends and family acknowledge their concerns will help.

As a relative, it is important to recognize your family members and friends that need to be directed to seek psychological, medical or counseling care.

Today, we are finding an increase in depression due to chronic stress, loss of jobs, importance of two income families, isolation due to loneliness, lack of face-to-face interaction and the reliance no social media, texting, sexting and the increased use of video games.

There are healthy ways to deal with your depression and addictions by learning how to use coping skills to deal with your issues to become happier, healthier and more confidence in yourself.

How do you deal with a toxic relationship?

  • When friends and/or family become toxic to you it may cause exhaustion of you mentally. Friends that are toxic may become unhealthy to you and your life.

Here are some points to recognize when this occurs:

  • Do you give more to them then they give to you?
    • If so then, there may be a lack of balance.
    • Balance is never 100% it is never 50-50. Yet, it has to over time result in 100%. It has to be with a person that enhances your life as you enhance theirs. It may be 20-80, 70-30, 100-0 yet, it always has to be a loving and caring relationship. In summary, both in a relationship have to give.

A major area of knowing the person is toxic is asking yourself are they a “Giver or Taker”?

  • When there is a lack of balance in a relationship between giving and taking it does not work.
  • For a giver, who takes nothing in a relationship, this lack of balance can result in feelings of isolation, alienation, emptiness and loneliness.
  • If you are a “giver” you have control over, whom you seek as friends and as lovers. You get to decide which people will be your friends and reject others.
  • Takers have no power without a giver.
  • We choose those with whom we want to have a relationship.
  • We can choose whether to have relationships that consist of too much taking and not enough giving. At any point, if we are unhappy or unfilled, we can decide to severe the relationship.

In a toxic relationship how do you fix it and when to you decide when to end it?

  • First you need to make sure you have made the effort to be caring and supportive in the relationship. Sometimes “toxic” is the lack of communication and ability to focus on building the relationship. This can be accomplished by recognizing your differences and seeking ways to be together that are healthy, try to plan activities that both of you enjoy. Get out and experience a new adventure. Take yourself out of your “normal” routine and do something fun and spontaneous.
  • Often, I find relationships feed on negativity and it affects the confidence of both individuals. One person whom you spend an enormous time can affect your confidence in yourself. When this occurs, then you need to end the relationship. This is difficult, a person in a toxic relationship may be unable to severe the relationship due to the belief they deserve no better and continue in a cycle of negative and destructive relationships.
  • The good news is the cycle can be broken if you learn to be aware of what you do and what you want and need from a relationship.

Why are there more breakups around the Holidays?

Psychological studies indicate 80% of Americans are stressed during the holidays to the point that according to a recent study one in five will inquire about divorce in January.  In addition, those with children have higher rates of stress.  Stress has a negative influence even on the most loving relationships.


There is “guilt” factor added in the time where it is suppose to be about celebration and joy.


A major cause of stress is drastic change in daily patterns due to over-indulgence; in buying, eating and drinking.


Psychological research indicates that “normal daily routines” and “rituals” are important to our family and health.  Rituals are defined as holidays and are important for the family structure.


Why does this occur during the holiday season?


Stress is in all areas of our life, relationships and financial situations are the prime factors. We are conducting our normal life schedule of work and family with the added stress of giving and providing more at the holiday season.


Psychological studies indicate that perfectionism is related more to anxiety than depression.  Perfectionism may lead to anxiety due to a fear of failure and the attainment of high standards.  At the holidays, we are dealing with normal daily routines coupled with an additional responsibilities and “guilt” of reaching the goals of making the holidays “perfect” for our family and friends.

Men with attractive wives report higher levels of marital satisfaction, new study finds

This study comes as no surprise.


It confirms the evolutionary theory of sex gender based on the survival of all species in the reproductive system.  The concept of sexual selection is that all species, humans included, will reproduce to continue their species.


Ancient man, in order to have his choice of available females needed to have superior hunting skills.  Women of that same era looked for a man who would allow her the resources to carry her child to term and support the child to maturity.


Therefore, the concept of attractive wives is part of the evolutionary theory into our current generation.  Today, men still seek the attractive female.   Vying for and winning the hand of an attractive wife translates into a happier marriage.


This is further supported by the social role theory that relates to the division of labor between men and women.  Our need for basic survival, as a family unit, has changed.  Modern women can get jobs and support themselves and their young without a man.


Today’s women can have it all.  They can have a career, marriage and/or children.


Yet, women still want a man who can provide and protect them.  Women continue to want to attract a male provider, even when she can provide for herself.


Today, we have added psychological variables to the basic survival instincts of procreation.


Women continue to compete for the attention of men.  It is still a prime driver for women to find a suitable mate, conceive and have children.


Just remember attraction is in the eye of the beholder.

Violent Video Games and Isolation

How are these games affecting our kids?


To quote Dr. Ferguson, Clinical Psychologist “statistically it actually would be more unusual if a youth delinquent or shooter did not play violent video games, given that the majority of youth and young men play such games at least occasionally”.


And “occasionally” is the key word.  Psychological studies indicate that playing video games more than 13 hours a week may lead to isolation.  As a psychologist, I like longitudinal studies, one study looked at exposure to violence in children at the age of 10-12 and then tracked them in their 20’s and found these children more aggressive and violent as adults


First is the importance of socialization of children is what is needed. We learn in school that yes, we will be accepted in certain circles and will be rejected by certain groups.  We learn that is a normal part of life and prepares for dealing with rejection and acceptance as adults without becoming psychologically devastated.



How do you talk to your kids about violent video games?


Parents make sure the child is playing the video games in the family room.


Limit the amount of time your child plays video games over 13 hours a week is not good.


Play the video game with them, this way you know what they are playing and you can talk to your kids about the game.  Guess what you may just have fun!


Make sure your child is socializing at school and in activities to find their interest.  That means having them involved in sports, music and the arts to develop their interest and make sure they have activities to socialize.



Should we be concerned about the growing prevalence of violent games in our society?


We are not going to change the Internet, video games or technology.  It is not the playing of a video game that is the problem.  It is the amount of time they play the video game, the lack of socialization skills and the isolation of the child.


Violence is acceptable and desirable in the rules of video games. In isolation some children develop the “mental health and depression issues” where the lines are blurred between what is a game and what is a reality.


In society, we need to be aware that “mental health” issues are not normal.  We need to make sure that we notice children and adults that are isolated and exhibiting “abnormal behavior”.  As a psychologist, we need to recognize children early so we can help them develop normal socialization and coping skills in society.  Parents, friends, our schools and our community need to attempt to get “help” for those with “mental health” issues.  Therefore, isolation and lack of socialization is a mental health problem.

Feds boosting mental health access, treatment

Dr. Wendy James – POV – Feds boosting mental health access, treatment


As a psychologist, I agree with Dr. Lieberman, president of American Psychiatric Association statement, “up to now, the law has not been complied with…companies have only sort of adhered to it”.  Private insurances need to comply.


  • There is a stigma attached to mental illness
    • Americans are reporting they have a problem with a person with mental illness
      • Assume they are more violent, do not want to be friends, do not want then in their workplace or to marry into their family (Journal of Health and Social Behavior)


  • The stigma of mental health results in those with mental health issues that need to be treated; refusing treatment, not taking their medication and not dealing effectively with their mental health problems.

-It also affects our Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Veterans in defense industry often lose their clearance if they seek psychological treatment

  • We tend to ignore it in our community and fail to recognize that the person needs help.   Fear of violence results in no action until there is violence


  • 1 in 4 adults have a diagnosable mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health)
  • Seek help early and get treatment.
  • Family members, schools and communities need to be aware of those they know need help and help them seek treatment


  • Concerns
    • Less psychiatric hospitals, less stay in a hospital or facility for treatment
    • More isolation from social interaction, increase in physical problems and fear of stigma results in fear to seek treatment.
    • Result downward spiral



  • Psychologists need to diagnose and develop a treatment plan.  The goal to help them be responsible and productive members of society and our workplace




MBS H3S4 – Miley Cyrus

Psychologist Dr. Wendy James: Can Women Have Sex Like Men?

Part 1

Part 2

What does your Halloween costume say about you?

It’s that time of year again when adults in weird outfits come out of the woodwork! The time of year you show up to Halloween parties and your jaw hits the floor when you see some people’s outfits. You begin to wonder, “This is the second year in a row Joe dressed up as a woman, do you think he has a tendency to cross dress?” Or you scowl at Cindi’s outfit, “Oh yeah, here she is again in her perfect little body dressed as a cheerleader! Did she not outgrow that in high school?”

Psychologist and life consultant Dr. Wendy James says, “Your Halloween costume is a great opportunity to let your creativity flow without boundaries. Any individual who doesn’t necessarily exert an abundance of power or influence in their daily lives can become a spectacle on Halloween and scare, thrill, or make hundreds of others laugh. A great costume can make you the center of attention. I think many people love Halloween because it’s a hall pass away from your own life for one night and an opportunity to engage in a world of total fun & fantasy. Halloween can a mentally stimulating and healthy event for many people.”

Dr. James shares some insight about what your Halloween costume really says about you:

The Pimp
Likely worn by an insecure man who’s acting out his fantasy of dominating women. It’s really not an original costume and is often a choice for the uncreative types.

Outgoing individuals tend to dress up like celebrities because it almost guarantees they’ll get lots of attention.

Gross / Scary
Horror is popular in pop culture and if a person goes for the gross and scary costume, chances are they will be low key individual who don’t seek the limelight.

Disney / Cartoon Character
This is a safe choice that is G-rated for all audiences. It’s a people pleaser and often worn by someone who doesn’t prefer to rock the boat.

Super Hero
Kind hearted individuals tend to flock to these costumes as they wish to help others and be seen as making a difference

Funny / Original
When you see a costume that make you look twice of three times, chances are the wearer of that costume is an A-type personality and highly creative individual who probably spend the past 9 months creating their costume.

Congress Costume
Considering how unpopular congress is today, anyone who would dress up like them probably enjoys being scorned and reviled. People who dress up like members of congress this year should probably seek professional counseling.

No Costume
Likely a choice of people completely out of touch with their inner child or those who feel they are “too mature” to be dressing up in costumes. They have the potential to bore people physically to death.

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