If you are sad you are more likely to spend more money to acquire the same commodities as a person whose emotional state is neutral, according to an article to be published in Psychological Science. Researchers from Carnegie Melon University, Stanford University, University of Pittsburg and Harvard University say people spend more if they are feeling sad and self-focused, even those whose sad feelings are temporary.

Previous research had indicated there might be a link between sadness and buying, the authors explain. Their aim was to follow-up on those findings. They have found that when a person’s self-focus is heightened his/her likelihood to spend more is significantly greater. They say this latest study helps us understand consumer behavior better; especially the impact emotions may have on decision-making.

In this experiment volunteers were asked to look at two types of video footage, a ‘sad’ one and an ’emotionally neutral’ one. They were randomly selected to view sad or neutral clips. They then had the task of buying a basic commodity, such as a water bottle. They had a wide range of prices to choose from. It was found that those who were assigned to the sad videos tended to offer nearly 300% more money than the neutral volunteers to buy the same type of commodity.

Those assigned the sad videos also said the content of the film clip did not affect their spending behaviors in any way – in other words, they were unaware of its impact.

The researchers say that self-focus helps to explain the differing spending behaviors of the two groups. Those who were highly self-focused and ‘primed’ to feel sad paid much more for commodities than those whose self-focus was low.

According to the authors, sadness and self-focus makes us devalue both our sense of self and our current possessions. This devaluation makes us more willing to splash out more money for new material goods as a way of enhancing our sense of self.

The “misery is not miserly” upshot may be even more striking in real life, as the low-intensity sadness induced in the experiment probably misjudges the power of extreme sadness on spending behavior.

The authors say this effect may well go beyond the domains of purchasing decisions – causing people to take bigger stock-trading risks, or even to seek new relationships, while being completely unaware that these behaviors are being driven by emotions.

“Misery is not Miserly: Sad and Self-Focused Individuals Spend More”
Cynthia E. Cryder, Jennifer S. Lerner, James J. Gross, Ronald E. Dahl
Click here to see the study online (PDF)

The paper will be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science

Written by – Christian Nordqvist