I often enjoy reading “Harper’s Index” from Harper’s Magazine, and while reading the May 2008 issue, there were two interesting statistics concerning happiness:”Average amount that a sad person was willing to pay for â€˜a sporty, insulated water bottle’ in recent study: $2.11; Average amount that a happy person was willing to pay for the same item: $0.56″ (Harper’s May 2008).
On April 19, 2008, NPR’s show All Things Considered reported on this very study in their “Science out of the Box” segment. At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, psychology doctoral student Cynthia Cryder conducted an experiment exploring how people’s emotions affect how they spend money. One group of students at Carnegie Mellow viewed a scene from the movie The Champ in which a young boy weeps over the dead body of the boxer – the “champ” in the movie. This movie is considered a classic way to induce sadness in psychology experiments. After watching the scene, the students then wrote an essay about how they would feel if they lost a mentor. A second group of students saw a much more neutral movie giving factual information about coral reefs. They also wrote an essay; however, this essay concerned the students’ daily routine and activities. Both groups were paid $10 for their time and then were informed that they could purchase “an insulated, sporty water bottle” with some of their earnings. The people who saw the sad movie would pay an average of $2.11 for this rather mundane object. Those who viewed the neutral movie were willing to pay only about $0.56! This difference is an increase of almost 300%, Cryder commented.
It seems undeniable that unhappiness is a driving factor in making people spend more money on commonplace things. However, Cryder also noted that the essays written by the people who viewed The Champ used many more self-centered terminology such as “I,” “me,” and “myself.” This concentration on the self is “a necessary condition for the influence of sadness to carry over to our decisions,” explained Cryder. These findings will be presented in an article in the Journal of Psychological Science in the June 2008 issue.
However, Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago, who has researched the spending of tax rebates, questioned whether “retail therapy” actually helps to improve mood. Does shopping and purchasing things make people happier? He wonders if it alters their “initial mood motivation.”
Personally, I do believe that a little shopping can increase someone’s mood, as it sometimes does mine, although I will certainly be more aware of how much I am spending thanks to this study. Moderation is certainly key. My cousin and I both regularly go shopping when feeling a little blue. I do often try to buy something for someone else rather than for myself; however, I do not always succeed in this endeavor. My mother believes that a little retail therapy is always necessary when on vacation.
For me, the question still remains of why do we buy things when sad? and from where does the shopping motivation come and why are we willing to spend more?