As I sit here writing this, with an iced pumpkin spice chai latte from our local coffee stand, I subject myself to many taunts from my fellow newspaper staff members about being “basic.” It’s fairly safe to say that there are two types of people in this world: those who love pumpkin spice and those who love to hate it. We don’t label hot chocolate and candy cane flavorings as “basic” when winter rolls around, so what makes pumpkin spice different? Truth is, pumpkin spice is just any other seasonal item.
Turns out, our brains are hardwired to sway toward seasonal items, such as pumpkin spice, due to our brains’ natural reactance. Reactance, as psychologists call it, happens when we feel like our variety of choices are limited or taken away, thus causing limited edition or seasonal products tend to trigger this. Americans, especially, value freedom and often do the opposite of what we are told; consequently, we try to counter reactance through buying seasonal items since we can’t have them later on. So customers of businesses, such as Starbucks and Bath & Body Works, tend to buy more items that are labeled “limited edition” than other items.
Pumpkin products also naturally draw us in. In American culture, pumpkins have become an icon. Starting in colonial times and evolving into autumn-themed Instagram posts, pumpkins have become a symbol of rural life. In colonial times, pumpkins were used as an emergency food source, especially during the fall harvest. Since pumpkins were native to the new world, the pilgrims often would substitute in pumpkins when the wheat supply ran low. In the mid-19th century, a sense of nostalgia for rural life grew in popularity, romanticizing the crop. Because of the popularity of pumpkins, many farmers used roadside pumpkin patches to save their farms from foreclosure. Many treats emerged during this time, thus leading to the creation of pumpkin spice: a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices used in pumpkin pie. Pumpkins have become so familiar, so we tend to gravitate toward them when fall vibes hit.
With these two powerful factors stacking up, pumpkin spice has an impactful effect on its targeted consumers, Whether you love it or hate it, pumpkin spice has become an icon for fall almost as much as pumpkins are. So, until winter, I will be here, drinking my pumpkin spice latte.