Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sad Shoppers Say: Gimme Plastic Water Bottle Plz!

Finally scientists are turning their critical eyes to the habits of shoppers. Was the Prada Bag a necessary item for which you paid the right price, an impulse purchase for which you overspent, or an "investment bag" which was a steal?

Yes, in case you didn't know, there is such a thing as an investment bag -- a handbag one purchases as, well, I guess as an "investment," though as far as I know no one has ever claimed to have one go up in price. I was alerted to this some months ago from the comments on this Jezebel post where I also learned that the average 30 year-old woman has 21 handbags. Astonishing! Can this possibly be true?

Anyway, science now tells us that if you're unhappy, you're more likely to have overspent.

The Times science blogger John Tierney tells us about the study. Like all such studies the particulars are so weird, you find yourself thinking, what? really? they did that?

First, how do you think they got the subjects into gloomy moods? They made them watch "a sad video clip about the death of a boy’s mentor (as opposed to a video clip about the Great Barrier Reef, which was shown to a control group)." I remember some brain study where they made people watch "On Golden Pond." I always think, aren't there a lot of moods that could put you in, depending? Or, at least, more than one?

Second, how do you think they tested what the subjects were willing to spend? They asked them how much they'd be willing to spend on a "sporty, insulated water bottle." As Tierney notes, not everyone's idea of a mood-induced impulse buy.

The study's co-author, in response to some questions, said, "many might suspect that being in a negative mood like sadness would trigger a negative outlook, encouraging devaluation. Here, again, the data contradict this belief. Sadness is a negative state but it does not trigger a negative outlook; instead it triggers increased valuation of commodities. People pay more to get things when they are sad."

As I wrote on the blog comments section, what I don't get is how paying more for a sporty water bottle is evidence of increased valuation of bottles. Why isn't it evidence of decreased valuation of money? Can't you just imagine these poor folks - they're there at the mall, forced to watch some downer video about death, and then asked to pay for a water bottle?

I'd be, like, "Fuck, I guess life really is short, and stupid. There's no sense saving for retirement since it all sucks anyway. You want ten dollars for that stupid-ass piece of landfill you call a water bottle? Whatever. Here."

Then I'd go buy a handbag, or more probably a pair of shoes. Now there's a life-affirming purchase.

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