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Mental Health Center

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'Retail Therapy' Might Not Be So Bad After All

Are you a one-upper, comfort seeker or 'happy hedonist' shopper?


Focusing on why people buy is valuable, according to Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, who reviewed the findings.

"Part of the misunderstanding we have about this subject has to do with the lack of a consistent definition of 'materialism,'" she said. "One researcher might be talking about someone that lavishly overspends and is overly devoted to shopping, another might be referring to any sort of appreciation for material goods."

Materialism is on a continuum, she said. And, as Pieters' study shows, motivations differ.

"I think there is a tendency to want to demonize shopping and the appreciation of products in our lives," Yarrow said. "In fact, shopping and products have been part of human life since caveman days. They can be a great source of connection and pleasure, and they can also be misused."

The subgroups described by Pieters rang true with Meg Meloy, an associate professor of marketing at Penn State University, especially the one-uppers. "It's well known that if we constantly compare ourselves to other people, we will always come up lacking," she said.

In her own research, she found that people need an outlet when they are hungry, stressed or busy.

"Talking to someone is one way," Meloy said. Vigorous exercise is another. But for others, shopping is that outlet.

When she looked at what stressed shoppers bought, even those in a very bad mood didn't break the bank. Most were likely to buy accessories -- such as earrings -- or music, not big-ticket items, she said.

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