People who score highly for materialism tend to turn to shopping -- and compulsive spending -- in the face of stress, according to a small new study from Michigan State University.
"When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping," study researcher Ayalla Ruvio, an assistant professor of marketing at the university, said in a statement. "And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse."
Ruvio and her team measured participants' materialistic tendencies using a standard test called the Richins’ (2004) attenuated 9-item Material Values Scale. The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, involved two parts. For the first part, 139 residents of an Israeli town who had been exposed to rocket attacks in 2007 were surveyed on their post-traumatic stress symptoms and impulsive and compulsive buying habits. One hundred and seventy residents from another Israeli town not affected by the rocket attacks were also interviewed.
Researchers found that people who scored as materialistic had an increased likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, and they were more likely to compulsively or impulsively shop, versus those who were less materialistic.
For the second part of the study, researchers sought to see how self-esteem factored into spending behaviors as a method of stress relief among materialistic people. "Because materialistic individuals typically exhibit low self-esteem, they may be especially likely to experience higher levels of stress and seek to resolve this stress via maladaptive consumption activities," they wrote in the study. "Thus, we examine the role of self-esteem as a possible underlying driver of the effects observed in our Israeli study."
For this part of the study, researchers commissioned a survey of 855 people, about half of whom were female, with an average age of 36. The survey examined the materialism levels, impulsive buying and compulsive consumption of the study participants, as well as their responses to a statement that addressed their own mortality: "I am frightened by the idea that my thoughts and feelings will stop when I am dead." They also measured the self-esteem of the study participants.
Researchers similarly found that materialism seemed to intensify stress's effects, and that the stress could be a more broad, encapsulating stress -- such as general fear of death -- and not just a specific stressor -- like the rocket attacks from the first part of the experiment.
The findings supported the observations of the first study, the researchers wrote. "[The result] suggests that this effect appears to be a generalized response to global mortality concerns rather than a localized reaction to a specific mortal threat. Thus, this study extends the generalizability of our findings beyond the context of a particular traumatic event," the researchers wrote in the study.
"In brief, it appears that this effect is likely driven by low levels of self-esteem rather than by a lack of social support," they added.
Recently, a study in the Journal of Economic Physiology showed that compulsive shoppers turn to shopping because they believe the purchases will boost their moods. "We … found that these individuals keep on buying because they are looking for that 'buy high,' hoping their purchases will lift their mood and transform them as a person," the researcher of that study, Ryan Howell, of San Francisco State University, said in a statement.
Plus, a recent online poll commissioned by HuffPost showed that nearly one in three Americans uses shopping as a stress-reliever, with women being more likely than men to turn to this method of stress reduction.