A Neuroscientific Perspective of a Shopper’s Response to the Presence of Others in Enclosed Shopping Malls: Exposing the Terror Genie
Enclosed malls were initially built on the edges of U.S. metropolitan locales for consumers to escape the problems traditionally plaguing urban, central business districts (e.g., crime). By the end of the 20th century, malls were experiencing gang violence, abductions, car jackings, armed robberies, sexual assaults, homicide, and crimes by and against youth. Other researchers empirically demonstrated that mall shoppers’ concerns for personal safety and security, often stemming from concerns about terrorism, profoundly influence their shopping experiences and encourage avoidance. This fear of terrorism, often exaggerated and real, has been referred to in press as the ‘terror genie.’
Given that shoppers’ emotional responses to the presence of others may evoke emotions that transpire at implicit or unconscious levels, they may not be able to articulate the reasons for their emotions. To overcome this challenge, we draw on neuroscience using Emotiv mobile EEG systems and EmotivPro software to examine how the mere social presence of others in an enclosed mall influences six emotional states: excitement/arousal, interest/valence, stress/frustration, engagement, attention/focus, and relaxation/meditation.
Four hundred fifty participants took part in this study. Three groups, consisting each of 150 participants, were randomly assigned to watch one of three videos. Each video lasted 10 minutes. The first video, which represented “zero social presence,” featured a mall shopper’s journey through the mall without any other shoppers present. The second featured the same mall journey during midweek and showed a “few people” in terms of social presence. The third featured “many people” in terms of social presence.
We used the Emotiv EEG data to tabulate neural responses to the videos at 10 points in time; that is, at one-minute intervals over the duration of the video. We calculated an average for each emotional dimension based on the 10 measurements for each participant. This average ranged from a low of .00 to a high of 1.0.
We conducted a one-way multivariate analysis of variance to determine the effect of the three social presence conditions (zero, few people, and many people) on the six emotional dimensions. We found significant differences among the three social presence conditions on the dependent measures (Wilks’s Λ = .09, F(12, 884) = 175.97, p < .001). The multivariate ղ2 based on Wilks’s Λ was strong at .71. Table 1 lists the means and the standard deviations of the dependent variables for the three conditions.
The data obtained from mall shoppers reveal that the mere presence of other shoppers in an enclosed mall evokes high levels of stress, decreases excitement, and impedes a shopper’s ability to focus on a task. These findings imply that enclosed mall shoppers may avoid malls not because of online shopping options but because of the mere social presence of other people.