The Gruen Effect

I just recently read something about the Gruen Effect (or Gruen Transfer) that got me thinking about how I seem to work, and wondering if the Gruen Effect operates differently with autistic people.

So before I go any further, I want to ask you – what is it like when you go shopping? How well do you stick to your plan?

Ok, onwards to the post. First of all, let’s talk about this Gruen Effect thing. I actually remember learning about it (or, well, an aspect of it) in school back in the 90’s, but I guess until I was reminded of it I didn’t really think about it since. Basically, apparently when shopping, a fairly common thing to happen is to lose track of what one is shopping for, and grabbing extra things that one sees around. Stores now are often designed to encourage this and take advantage of it. When in school, the thing that my teachers talked about was specifically grocery stores – how they are designed in many different ways to manipulate your shopping experience and encourage impulse purchases. I don’t actually know how common it is for people to grab lots of extra things, but various things I’ve read seem to indicate that it happens a lot.

What I do know, though, is how I shop. And this Gruen thing does not seem to apply to me at all. AT ALL. When I go grocery shopping, I do need to bring a written list with me. However, this is because if I don’t, I just won’t get anything, or I’ll only get a very small number of things that I can remember we need, but anything I don’t remember I don’t get. And I don’t get extras.

When I do go in with a list, I ONLY get what’s on that list. I will, maybe, get some things not written that I simply know need to be gotten every week, so I feel less need to rely on the written list to get it. But otherwise, if we need something and I didn’t write it down, I don’t get it. This has actually happened to a fair extreme a few times. Sometimes we need milk, but I forgot to write it down. When going into the store, I might remember that I need to get milk, and make a mental note to get it. If I don’t write it down immediately, though, I ultimately won’t get milk. I will walk right past the huge, impossible to miss dairy display because I am so focused on my written list that I can’t remember anything else that I might need.

What’s really telling to me, though, is what happens when Nee and I go grocery shopping together, as opposed to me going on my own. When we go together, we wind up getting a LOT more than what was on the list. Nee will see things and go “hey, that looks good!” or “we could use this!” or “hey, let’s make a dinner out of that” or whatever else. Also of note, when I am alone I never, ever, grab myself impulse candy in the checkout aisle. When Nee is with me, I sometimes will, but generally only after Nee suggests it, or I watch Nee grab candy for themself.

Oh, and we do this in defiance of typical stereotypes, as I am female and Nee is male.

So that got me wondering if there’s something about me that means I operate differently. Maybe it’s an autistic thing. I couldn’t actually find anything in my initial googling, so I’m left to wonder. Which is why I’m asking you – how does shopping work for you?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Gruen Effect

  1. Possum

    With me the difficult part is making the list. The list doesn’t need to be written but I have a lot of trouble planning what to eat. A lot of my list is in categories: green veggie, protein, oatmeal or granola, so I still have some decision-making to do when I get to the store. The major way I deviate is to go to the bargain bins first, especially the discounted produce bins. I usually do get some candy to eat immediately but that’s pretty planned. Being realistic. My thing is, after my agonizing over my list, when I get to the store I agonize all over. slow process.

  2. Dan

    I am diagnosed Asperger’s and my wife is NT. When I shop, I stick to the list – and the list must be fairly precise: If “Crackers” is on the list, I’ll get to the crackers aisle and have to see if I can recall the conversation that put “Crackers” on the list. Was it Saltines? Ritz? One of a hundred other varieties there on the shelf? If I cannot recall the conversation, then I’ll have to make my own choice, and that may take quite a while. Working through the selection process with the bright lights, P.A. announcements, piped music, people coming and going, etc. can take a very long time. Then, on the list is “Soup”. Ah, where is the soup aisle? I’m glad they hang those signs. And what kind of soup? You get the idea.

    Oh, and, I cannot digest onions, so I must read every label.

    When my wife shops, she has a list in her head so she “just knows” we need this or that, but sometimes (fairly often!) it seems we need ice cream or poptarts. “I don’t believe it! How did that get on your list? Let me look at your list!” She says “It jumped into the cart!” with a big grin. She also keeps a paper list and resorts to it near the end of shopping. We usually get all on her list, plus some other stuff. Not so much the shiny thing on the shelf, but the dessert she has a yearn for (it really is on her secret list).

    My wife has (with probably 97% accuracy) memorized which products contain onions, so she’ll just pick them up. When she makes an onion error, I can smell it cooking from upstairs (she does the cooking).

    Right now, my employer has me overseas, so I do all my own shopping, and it is a slow process.

  3. If I need a thing, I go out focused thereon. But in a general grocery-shopping mode, I am more open to extras and impulse buying . There may be a statistical basis for a male-v-female difference in shopping behavior, but I think it’s more personality-based, less tied to physical gender. It would not be too surprising if Aspergian folks were less affected by marketing techniques, but it would be interesting to know.