jewelry-window-orchidsWhy do some people attach more value to their material possessions than others? Why do they continually buy, buy, buy while others are content with the goodies they already own? A March study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology indicates that these big spenders may be less secure in their personal relationships than those who put a smaller value on material goods.

The study author, Margaret Clark, a professor of psychology at Yale, said that people are social beings who need to feel secure and this sense of security can come from either supportive relationships or material possessions. If people don’t feel loved and valued, the importance of material things expands to fill that empty space.

In the study, 185 participants between the ages of 18 and 71  (70 of them male) were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to write a paragraph about a time when they felt socially supported and the second asked to write about a pleasant restaurant experience. Then both groups were asked to put a monetary value on their bed blanket.

The group recalling their positive social support put an average value of  $33.38 on their blanket. Amazingly the other group valued the blanket at a sky-high average of $173.80.

Because a blanket is a personal item equated with warmth, protection and security, the researchers next tested the value of a more generic item — a gift pen given to the study participants for taking part in the research. Divided into three groups, 98 young people were asked to unscramble 30 sets of sentences. The first group contained sentences with supportive words like “love,” “hug,” and “closeness”. The second group had to unscramble sentences with positive words like “happy,” “festive” and “merry.” And the last group unscrambled sentences with neutral words such as “book,” “boat,” and “fence.”

The participants were then asked to rate the value of their gift pens. The group prepped with security-related words like “love” valued the pen at $3.23, the group prepped with positive words like “happy” valued it at $4.11 and the neutral bunch valued it at $4.18, more than a dollar on top of the “love” group.

On television, I once watched a compulsive female shopper, who habitually concealed purchases from her husband while burning through his salary like wild fire, describe the high she received whenever she walked into a mall. “It’s like I come alive,” she exclaimed. “I feel excited — full of energy. Raring to buy.” And as she spoke her eyes sparkled and she glowed like a lover describing her beloved.

In the context of this study, her compulsion to buy stuff is easier to understand. For further info on this subject, check American Psychological Association.

Have any problematic, compulsive shoppers ever crossed your path?

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