Misery is not miserly: New study finds why even momentary sadness increases spending

Feb 08, 2008

How you are feeling has an impact on your routine economic transactions, whether you’re aware of this effect or not.

In a new study that links contemporary science with the classic philosophy of William James, a research team finds that people feeling sad and self-focused spend more money to acquire the same commodities than those in a neutral emotional state. The team’s paper, “Misery is not Miserly: Sad and Self-Focused Individuals Spend More,” will be published in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science and will be presented at the Society for Social and Personality Psychology’s Annual Meeting on Feb. 9.

The new study follows up on earlier research that established a connection between sadness and buying. Researchers Cynthia Cryder (Carnegie Melon University), Jennifer Lerner (Harvard University), James J. Gross (Stanford University), and Ronald E. Dahl (University of Pittsburgh) have now discovered that heightened self-focus drives the connection – a finding that expands understanding of consumer behavior and, more broadly, the impact of emotions on decision-making.

In the experiment, participants viewed either a sad video clip or one devoid of human emotion. Afterward, participants could purchase an ordinary commodity, such as a water bottle, at various prices. Participants randomly assigned to the sad condition offered almost 300% more money to buy the product than “neutral” participants. Notably, participants in the sadness condition typically insist, incorrectly, that the emotional content of the film clip did not carry over to affect their spending.

Self-focus helps to explain the spending differences between the two groups. Among participants “primed” to feel sad, those who were highly self-focused paid more than those low in self-focus. Notably, sadness tends to increase self-focus, making the increased spending prompted by sadness difficult to avoid.

Why might a combination of sadness and self-focus lead people to spend more money" First, sadness and self-focus cause one to devalue both one’s sense of self and one’s current possessions. Second, this devaluation increases a person’s willingness to pay more for new material goods, presumably to enhance sense of self.

Notably, the “misery is not miserly” effect may be even more dramatic in real life, as the low-intensity sadness evoked in the experiment likely underestimates the power of intense sadness on spending behavior. The effect could extend to domains beyond purchasing decisions, causing people to engage in increased stock trading, for example, or even to seek new relationships—without conscious awareness that they are being driven by their emotions.

The study is an early step toward uncovering the hidden impact of different, fluctuating, and what would otherwise seem irrelevant emotions on our day-to-day decisions.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

No quick fix for threats to women on Twitter

Nov 13, 2014

The Women, Action and the Media (WAM) activist group announced on Friday a collaboration with Twitter to address online harassment of women, which it claims has "reached crisis levels". ...

Five ways to fight online abuse with good manners

Oct 31, 2014

Online and social media's capacity to enable anyone to communicate their ideas and views is much celebrated. So why do so many people feel nervous about getting involved with online debate?

SHORE facial analysis spots emotions on Google Glass

Aug 28, 2014

One of the key concerns about facial recognition software has been over privacy. The very idea of having tracking mechanisms as part of an Internet-connected wearable would be likely to upset many privacy ...

Fact or fiction: Which do moviegoers prefer?

Aug 26, 2014

Do you feel sadder watching a documentary about war or a drama about a young person dying of cancer? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers mistakenly believe they will have stronger emotio ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

4 hours ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
not rated yet Feb 08, 2008
this research is dumb. it's basically saying soemthing we all know....when you're bummed out, you will lose more money because you gamble more and you are worse at gambling.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.