Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Retail therapy and emotion

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Retail therapy and emotion:
What are the emotion precursors and consequences of so-called "retail therapy”

extracted from Black (2010)

Milano Fashion (7013579129).jpg

Overview[edit | edit source]

Retail therapy (RT) has been defined as purchasing of items that are unneeded or unnecessary for the simple objective of easing negative mood states (Ataly, 2011). Literature into consumer purchasing refers to RT as mood elevation consumption, compensatory consumption, indulgence, self-gifting or self-treats (Black, 2007; Mick, 1992; Yurchism, 2006). Although RT in the western world has become a form of leisure activity (Black, 2007), excessive spending or mindless shopping is associated with negative emotional states that may elicit impulsive buying (Ataly, 2011). This might occur because of either external factors or internal factors such as low self-esteem, depression, loneliness or anger (Faber, 1987). Current literature suggests that Impulsive behaviours may arise from a number of factors, including lack of self-control and self-regulation (Martin, 2006). Failure to regulate the self and a lack of self-control therefore may result in detrimental consequences for an individual psychologically, physically and financially (Black, 2007). Emotional precursors and consequences of so-called retail therapy are further discussed.

Initiation of consumption behaviours[edit | edit source]

In developed countries shopping malls have been determined to be where the most time is spent after home and work (Black, 2007: Smith, 2004). People tend to shop from time to time. Research into consumer purchasing is increasingly observing that people are engaging in self-gifting behaviours that may increase on special occasions, such as Christmas or in celebrations, at times of success (Mick, 1992). In contrast problematic spending from RT occurs when an individual engages in excessive spending or compensatory consumption for the mere purpose of making oneself feel better, alleviating negative moods or finding a means of fulfillment that otherwise is absent. Engagement in excessive spending precedes subsequent low self-esteem and negative emotional states (Yarchisn, 2006). Studies indicate that initial states of negative and positive affects lead to either inhibitory or stimulatory effects on behaviours that are produced with a thorough examination of the environment that surrounds an individual (Andrade, 2005).

So then, what leads to an increase in consumer purchasing behaviours? The study by Andrade (2005) looked at behaviours and behavioural intentions that were guided by affect-regulatory mechanisms. These affect regulatory mechanisms theories are divided into two separate concepts of static and dynamic. Static affect revolution theory suggests that an individual's affect at a given point in time influences judgments, thoughts and behaviours. Therefore suggesting that a person's affect causes biases on judgments and behaviours. A positive mood state elicits proactive behaviour and a negative mood state elicits a less favourable evaluation of the surrounding environment (Andrade, 2005), which in theory should decrease the likelihood of consumption behaviour. In contrast the dynamic affect revolution theory suggests behaviour is guided by a person's discrepancy of feelings of two points at a given moment. This means that a person evaluates what they feel at a particular moment and what they ‘could’ feel as a consequence of a particular behaviour later. This theory anticipates that a person in negative mood will most likely behave in a proactive way, in order to eliminate the negative affect and therefore aim to feel better. In contrast if an individual is in a positive mood they will avoid any behaviours that might threaten their current pleasant affect (Andrade, 2005).

Self-regulation[edit | edit source]

Self-regulation theory frames individuals in a way that incorporates management of multiple standards of goals and ideals that are set. These can be competing standards or compensatory. Through the feedback loop individuals evaluate weather to approach or avoided certain behaviours. Literature suggests that self-regulation theory consists of four goal categories: These consist of emotions, thoughts, impulses and performance. In an attempt to regulate these multiple standards of goals, individuals form queues with immediate goals given the most priority. Priorities adjust with changing environments causing people to shift their behaviour accordingly. As mentioned earlier mindless shopping arises from negative emotional states so the regulation of mood becomes incumbent for the person to achieve a positive affective internal environment. Bad-moods is suggested to fail a person to successfully fail to regulate the self in a constructive way. In negative moods states people tend to engage in activities like RT that will distract them and will uplift their affective states. In general, however, most mood regulation activity is motivated by the goal for a sense of feeling better. Therefore when the goal of mood regulation initiates activity of RT and other goals tend to weaken. The attempt an individual makes to regulate their emotional distress results in the engagement of short-term goals such as impulsive buying. Unstable affective states bring about impulsive behaviours, preoccupation with impulsive buying and risk taking behaviours. The priory of fixing the negative mood takes over and self-regulation fails causing the likelihood of impulsive behaviours. In contrast individuals who rationalize their thoughts let go of impulse control to maintain mood equilibrium. (Ataly, 2011).

Self-control[edit | edit source]

It is suggested that when consumers are regulating themselves towards choice making they will require the use of cognitive resources to best assess and guide their behaviour. The depletion of cognitive resources leads one to a lack of control and therefore make irrational decisions about their anticipated behaviours (Fedorikhin, 2008). According Baumeister (2002) self control fails when any of the three standards involved in self-control are affected: 1) standards, 2) monitoring process and 3) operational capacity.

Self-regulation according to Martin (2006) is a process where a person regulates emotions, behaviours, thoughts etc. through the actual self and idealised state through a proposed mechanism referred to as TOTE. A person through the discrepancy between the actual state and ideal state tests, operates, tests (again) and exits (if the discrepancy has been rectified). Whereas self-control is the set of competing urges in the phase of ‘operate’. A person is said to have greater ego depletion on high self-control tasks then on low-control tasks. The depletion of self-control therefore leads to poorer judgments and performance on subsequent tasks (Martin, 2006). These can be observed in people who are on a strictly controlled diet. For example, in an experiment where participants were allocated to either a high control group (eating radishes) or a low-control group (eating cookies) found that people in high control group had poorer subsequent problem solving activity because of the depletion of these cognitive resources (Martin, 2006). This example closely replicates the behaviours of chronic shoppers who are usually preoccupied by these competing urges and as a result make poorer purchasing decisions.

Impulsive/Compulsive buying[edit | edit source]

Impulsive buying is acknowledged as a significant behaviour in consumer research. Impulse buying can be harder to define, although in psychological terms it appears to be an ‘urge to buy’ or commit to unplanned shopping (Vohs, 2007; Piron, 1991). Research into impulsive shopping seems to vary depending on what psychological approach is being looked at; some aspects of these approaches include personality traits, cognitive processes, psychopathology, emotions and self-control, along with various other aspects (Verplankin, 2011). Impulsive buying sometimes is associated with compulsive behaviours. It is however different in that impulsive buying is usually unplanned and driven by the sudden ‘urge’ when an attractive item is seen. Impulsive buying is typically associated with positive emotional states of gratifying feelings in relation to the attractive stimuli (Bellman, 2012).

Compulsive buying differs from normal purchasing behaviours in that the compelling impulses are disruptive and irrational (Faber, 1987). Compulsive buyers share some symptoms of people with addictions in that they become psychological/physically dependent on a substance or activity, in this case loss of self-control and the denial of aversive consequences, such as significant financial harm (Faber, 1987). A Study by Faber (1987) focused on a discussion with compulsive buyers; they stated that although the magnitude of the behaviours varied amongst individuals the language they used to describe their buying events were somewhat similar. For example, typical use of words like “need” or “had to do” instead of something else was prevalent. In addition they felt that the ‘urge’ was too strong for them to ignore and they felt ‘overpowered’ by these urges.

Studies into compulsive buying suggest that women are more likely to engage in excessive spending then men. However, studies such as Black, (2010) disagree in that gender differences in consumption behaviours may partly differ because women tend to be more open to sharing their experiences of shopping and discuss their attitudes than are men. Studies conducted seem to mainly comprise of participants who are women, therefore suggesting perhaps men may not acknowledge the problem and are therefore unable to report such behaviours. Another proposed reason for gender difference may be that gender differences influence consumer behaviour for desired items. For example, men are more likely to spend extravagantly on items such as electronics, games and gadgets, whereas women spend on apparel, perfumes and accessories (Black, 2007). This in turn might make men less susceptible to realising that a problem may exist, partly because the terms like ‘shopping’ may seem irrelevant to them (Smith, 2004). In contrast as stated in the article by Black, (2007) Koran suggests that women make up the majority of compulsive buyers. She argues this could be due to the effects of serotonin levels and how men and women act differently to them. Men act aggressively and become active whilst women become depressed and feel low self-esteem. This again is evident with the types of items that are purchased, for example, apparel, make up and perfumes to make up for their low self-esteem.

Biological factors[edit | edit source]

Research shows that along with psychological factors, there is a biological basis for impulsive behaviours (Bellman, 2012). It is suggested that anxiety and impulsivity both share biological influences. Jeffery Gray, one of the earliest researchers, linked biological factors to personality types and specified in theoretical terms the Conceptual Nervous System, that is, comprised of various brain structures consisting of a Behaviour Inhibition System (BIS) and Behaviour Activation System (BAS). Gray suggested that anxiety is associated with BIS and impulsivity is associated with BAS. Anxiety therefore inhibits behavioural responses, whereas BAS activates behavioural responses. Activation of BIS limits motor behaviours and increases levels of arousal (Bellman, 2012). Research in the field of biology suggests there may be a genetic predisposition for compulsive activities (Black, 2007). Neurotransmitters have been found to play a part in addictive behaviours, such as drug use and heavy consumption of alcohol (Faber, 1987).

In contrast, activation of BAS initiates a set of behaviour that either serve to be approach based or avoidance based. This means that an environmental stimuli initiates subjects to physically be closer to the appealing target. In approach the first set of stimuli are usually instigated by potential rewards. This closely ties with cognitive theories of learning. Rewards and punishments are likely to determine whether the behaviour occurs again or is avoided completely. Immediate delivery of reinforcements increases the likelihood of behaviour being repeated, for example in the case of RT literature which suggests the consumer initially feels a sense of gratification with immediate reward upon purchasing of unnecessary items (Bellman, 2012).

Consequences[edit | edit source]

Billions of dollars are driven into the consumer market. Unwanted items that are unneeded are purchased for the mere purpose of enhancing pleasure and or for removing negative affects that may be present due to different reasons. Advertising campaigns, and companies that drive these, steer impulse buying (Youn, 2000). Research into addictive behaviours such as gambling and smoking along with various other forms of addictive behaviours are well acknowledged problems for many researchers (Smith, 2004). However, research into compensatory consumption does not appear to be a well-researched topic (Faber, 1987). For people struggling with repeated episodes of mood alleviation consumption it can cause detrimental consequences for them and their family members. For people who are struggling with chronic episodes of RT, admit that they are distressed and seem to be overpowered by it in some cases this may lead to marital and family problems such as separation, credit card debts that are out of control and causing subjects to resort to other behavioural problems such as shoplifting. In addition to these factors, impairment in efficient psychological functioning is also observed (Black, 2007; Faber, 1987).

Underlying causes for impulsive or unnecessary buying not only has aversive consequences financially but also psychologically (Bellman, 2012). states in their study that compulsive buying may be associated with compulsive disorders rather than impulsivity. Psychiatric comorbidity is highly prevalent among chronic shoppers. For example, a person displaying symptoms of compulsive buying is likely to also share symptoms of depression and other type of ‘mood’ disorders. Other comorbidity disorders, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, impulse control and anxiety disorder have also been observed to be excessive amongst chronic shoppers (Black, 2007). According to Black (2007), Compulsive Buying Disorder has a worldwide lifetime prevalence of 5.8% and of these are 80% women, although these figures may not be the actual representation of both genders for some of the possible reasons discussed earlier.

Assessments[edit | edit source]

Problematic spending may result from factors that are multidimensional. A clinician or psychologist may use one or a combination of the following assessment tools to diagnose problematic spending behaviours (Bellman, 2012).

The consumer Impulsivity Scale (CIS)[edit | edit source]

The consumer impulsivity scale is a factor analysis consisting of 12 adjectives; seven of these are reversed scored items that consist of prudent subscales, of which five comprise impulsive or hedonic subscales. The responses are indicated on a seven point likert scale (Bellman, 2012).

Buying Impulsiveness Scale (BIS)[edit | edit source]

Buying impulsiveness scale measures the tendency to buy items on impulse without thinking. The scale is comprised of nine items consisting of five point scale. Responses range from strongly disagrees to strongly agree. The nine items on the scale all include either the word ‘buy’ or purchase (Bellman, 2012).

UPPS Behaviour Impulsiveness Scale[edit | edit source]

The UPPs behaviour impulsiveness scale contains 45 items. The items were complied from other measures that assess impulsivity such as the sensation seeking scale (SSS), the Barratt impulsiveness scale (BIS -11) and the multidimensional personality questionnaire control scale (MPQ). The 45 items are responded to in a four point scale of 1) I agree strongly, 2) I agree somewhat, 3) I disagree somewhat and 4) I disagree strongly (Bellman, 2012).

The big five inventory (BFI)[edit | edit source]

The big five inventory consists of 44 items. The BFI is based upon a five factor model of personality. Responses are rated using a five point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The BFI consists of eight items that measure personality traits like extraversion, eight items measuring neuroticism, nine items measuring agreeableness , nine items measuring conscientiousness and 10 items measuring openness (Bellman, 2012).

Application[edit | edit source]

Pharmacotherapy[edit | edit source]

It is suggested that for chronic shoppers who engage in RT for modifying their negative moods, pharmacotherapies such as antidepressants might be effective. Although research into compulsive buying disorder remains inconclusive, there seems to be some evidence suggesting that the use of medication may be effective (Black, 2010). For example, an article by Wood (2003) reviewed a study led by Lorrin Koran who successfully treated chronic shoppers with administration of the antidepressant citalopram (Celexa) for a continuation of seven weeks. A placebo for some and a continuation for others followed this. Results were promising in that the chronic shoppers administered with the drug for the whole duration had lost interest in shopping despite being physically present around shopping malls. In contrast, the placebo group reverted to consumption behaviours. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat compulsive buyers and therefore with compulsive shoppers, partly because these people exhibit similar symptoms to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Cognitive behavioural therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective, especially when used in-group sessions. CBT has been widely used by psychologists and behaviour modification clinicians, to change/alter an individual’s cognitive process that lead to specific problematic behaviours. CBT is a commonly used form of psychotherapy for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, phobias and panic disorders. Research suggests that CBT is most effective when used in conjunction with pharmacotherapy than when used alone. It is suggested that cue exposure and response prevention may be helpful when treating spending behaviours. (Black, 2010).

Self-help[edit | edit source]

Self-help can be a convenient behaviour modification method; it does not require one to go to a clinic or any other source for help. It also can be implemented in the privacy of your own home. Self-help often is referred to as written material such as books or articles, however, other forms include media and videotapes (Lancaster, 2009). Literature on self-help seems to vary, however self-help support groups have been found to be beneficial, especially for people suffering from addiction (Black, 2007).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Retail therapy has been defined as buying, for the mere purpose of alleviating negative mood.


2 People who engage in excessive buying behaviours feel that they have gained self-control.


3 A persons state of affect tends to lead them towards either inhibitory or stimulatory behaviours.


4 Impulsive buying is the same as compulsive buying in that they both result from a sudden 'urge' to shop.



External Links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Andrade, & Eduardo, B. (2005). Behavioral consequences of affect: Combining evaluative and regulatory mechanisms. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, 355–62.

Atalay, S. A., & Meloy, G. M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology and Marketing, 28, 638-660.

Baumeister, R. F. (2002). Yielding to temptation: Self-control, failure, impulsive purchasing, and consumer behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 28.

Bellman, B. S. (2012). I would rather be happy than right: Consumer impulsvity, risky decision-making, and accountability. Lowa Research Online, 1-83.

Black, D. W. (2007). A review of compulsive buying disorder. Journal of World Psychiatric Association, 6, 14-18.

Black, D. W. ( 2010). Compulsive buying: Clinical aspects. In Aboujaoude, E., Koran, L. M. (Eds.) Impulse control disorders (pp.5-23). NY, America: Cambridge University Press.

Faber, R. J., & Vohs, D. K. (2007). Spent resources: Self-regulatory resource availability affects impulse buying. Journal of Consumer Research, 33, 537-545.

Fedorikhin, A., & Patrick, V. (2008). Whats wrong with having too much fun?: The moderating role of arousal in the influence of positive on self-control. Latin American Advances in Consumer Research, 2, 163.

Faber, R. J., Thomas, C. O., & Krych, R. (1987). Compulsive consumption. Advances in Consumer Research, 14, 132-135.

Lancaster, T., & Stead, F. L. (2005). Self help interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3, 1-94.

Martin, M., Alberts, H., & De Vries, K. N., (2006). Maintaining self-control: The role of expectancies. In De rider, D., De wit, J (Eds.), Self regulation in health behaviours, 169-189. West Sussex, England. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Mick, D. G., Demoss, M., & Faber, R. J. (1992). A projective study of motivations and meanings of self-gifts: Implications fort retail management. Journal of Retailing, 68, 122-144.

Piron, F. (1991). Defining impulse purchasing. In eds. Holman, R. H., & Solomon, M. R. Advances in consumer research (509-514) Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Smith, D. E., Seymour, R. B. (2004). The nature of addiction. In Coombs, H. R (Eds.) Handbook of addictive disorders: A practical guide to diagnosis and treatment (pp. 2-7). NJ, America: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Verplankin, B., & Sato, A. (2011). The psychology of impulse buying: an intergrative self regulation approach. Journal of Consumer Policy, 34, 197-210.

Wood, H. (2003). Retail therapy. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4, 700-701.

Youn, S., & Faber, R. J. (2000). Impulse buying: Its relation to personality traits and cues, in Hoch, J.S., Meyer, R. J. (Eds.) Advances in consumer research, (pp.179-185). Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research.

Yurchisin, J., Yan R., Watchravesringkan,K., & Chen, C. (2006). Why retail therapy? A preliminary investigation of the role of liminality, self- esteem, negative emotions, and proximity of clothing to self in the compensatory consumption of apparel Products, in Eds. Lees, M.C, Davis, T., Gregory, G. Asia-pacific advances in consumer research, Sydney, Australia: Association for Consumer Research.