The words ‘retail therapy’ are ingrained on our aspirational brains from the moment our parents teach us how money leads to the exchange of goods, and possibly a happy glow. Feeling down? To a MAC counter you go. Self-esteem not what it used to be? A fabulous and flattering dress it is. This transformative power of shopping is a trope in almost every romantic comedy going. See Clueless, Pretty Woman, Confessions of a Shopaholic… actually maybe skip that last one.
However, a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research has found this kind of emotional shopping isn’t exactly good for the capitalist soul. In fact, such purchases are too closely linked to the bad feelings that originally motivated them, leading to diminished self-worth.
The study claims shopping in a bad mood is “compensatory behavior”. You do it to comfort yourself. If you’re particularly emotional while spending you engage in “within-domain compensation.” When you feel threatened you buy products that “symbolize accomplishment.” The study pointed to MBA students who compare themselves less favourably to their classmates and then buying products that signal success, like a designer watch or plush leather briefcase. These products are meant to “serve as a psychological salve to repair the self”, but actually trigger thinking more about the original disappointment.
As the research concludes, “Although within-domain compensation can offer safe harbour in times of psychological threat, the present research demonstrates that detrimental effects may lurk beneath the surface of apparently calm waters.”
Does that mean the movie Pretty Woman lied?
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