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article imagePsychology explains what retail therapy is all about

By Tim Sandle     Jan 19, 2017 in Science
When people are unhappy they often go out and buy something in order to make themselves feel better. One of the drivers for this, psychologists report, could be a fundamental unhappiness with personal relationships.
The new approach to understanding consumer behavior has been put forward by Dr. Xun (Irene) Huang, who works at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The researcher first discusses jealousy and its meanings in terms of behavior. By jealousy Dr. Hang is referring to small things that trigger specific emotions. Examples cited are someone feeling jealous about the attention their partner is seemingly giving to someone else, such as enjoying a conversation with someone a little too much or seemingly flirting.
Taking these feelings when they manifest into jealousy, Dr. Hang has investigated if these feelings lead to changes in consumer behavior. Specifically, the research interest was to determine if people who feel jealous purchase items that are subsequently more likely to recapture the attention of their partners.
To explore this Dr. Hang ran five studies. The outcome was that feelings of jealousy do seem to increase the desire for someone to purchase eye-catching products. This might include a bright colored coat instead of a dull-colored one; or a T-shirt with a big logo design versus a low-key design.
Conversely where there appeared little chance of an eye-catching product being noticed the desire to purchase such goods faded. The more noticeable the item would be to the public also drove the desire to purchase it. For instance, one of Dr. Hang’s studies found that when purchasing a lamp, if the lamp was to be displayed in an office the purchaser would more likely select a brightly colored one over dull one; whereas if the lamp was only for use in a bedroom, the duller colored lamp was most likely to be bought.
With purchases it was also found that the desire to impress and catch the eye of someone else, particularly the partner, outweighed any thoughts of embarrassment. This was shown with an experiment about preparing for a costume party, where people with jealous feelings would often opt for more outlandish costumes.
Interviewed by India Express, Dr. Hang explains: "We believe that this effect is not just restricted to jealousy in romantic relationships.” Here she includes: “Children can be jealous of a sibling's relationship with their parents, or workers might be jealous of a colleague's close relationship with a supervisor."
The research could have implications for marketing and advertising, connecting certain products with particular images and aiming the adverts at people in particular personal situations.
The research and explanatory theory are published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology under the title of “The effects of promotions on hedonic versus utilitarian purchases.”
More about retail therapy, Retail, Consumers, Shopping, Psychology
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