We may be willing to spend more when we’re feeling down, new research suggests.
It’s a practice so common it has come to be called retail therapy. And in a recent study, researchers uncovered evidence of what shopaholics have known for years — that people may be willing to spend more on themselves when they’re feeling sad.
The study of 33 volunteers, to be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science, found that feeling sad leads to self-centered thinking — and this, in turn, can lead to a greater likelihood of dropping extra cash on something to make you feel better.
To reach their conclusions, a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pittsburgh showed volunteers either a video clip that showed grief following a tragic death or a neutral clip from a nature show. Afterward, participants had the chance to purchase an ordinary item — a sporty water bottle. They found that people who’d watched the sad video clip offered an average of 300 percent more money for the item than those who had viewed the neutral clip.
Other psychological experts not directly involved with the research agree that the findings are interesting.
This is not the first study to show a sadness-spending link.
“The two are related because they both deal with a way of filling up the emptiness inside that focuses on making their outside more attractive,” says Beverly Hills-based psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, whose research on compulsive shopping goes back to the mid-1980s. She has since appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss the phenomenon and penned the entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica explaining the behavior.
“The way I discovered it was because I was treating a lot of eating disordered patients at the time, and found that after I cured their eating disorder, they developed a compulsive shopping disorder,” she said.