Study: Sadness can make you spend more
BOSTON -- If you're sad and shopping, watch your wallet: A new study shows people's spending judgment goes out the window when they're down, especially if they're a bit self-absorbed.
Study participants who watched a sadness-inducing video clip offered to pay nearly four times as much money to buy a water bottle than a group that watched an emotionally neutral clip.
The so-called "misery is not miserly" phenomenon is well-known to psychologists, advertisers and personal shoppers alike, and has been documented in a similar study in 2004.
The new study released Friday by researchers from four universities goes further, trying to answer whether temporary sadness alone can trigger spendthrift tendencies.
The study found a willingness to spend freely by sad people occurs mainly when their sadness triggers greater "self-focus." That response was measured by counting how frequently study participants used references to "I," "me," "my" and "myself" in writing an essay about how a sad situation such as the one portrayed in the video would affect them personally.
The brief video was about the death of a boy's mentor. Another group watched an emotionally neutral clip about the Great Barrier Reef, the vast coral reef system off Australia's coast.
On average, the group watching the sad video offered to pay nearly four times as much for a sporty-looking, insulated water bottle than the group watching the nature video, according to the study by researchers from Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Pittsburgh universities.
Thirty-three study subjects — young adults who responded to an advertisement offering $10 for participation — were offered the chance to trade some of the $10 to buy the bottle. The sad group offered to trade an average of $2.11, compared with 56 cents for the neutral group.
Despite the big difference, participants in the sad group typically insisted that the video's emotional content didn't affect their willingness to spend more — an incorrect assumption, said one of the study's co-authors.