Sadness and Consumption: Why do we eat when we are sad and swipe that credit card

Abstract (via Harvard)

Sadness has a curious effect on consumption. Sadness from one situation tends to carry-over to new situations, leading individuals to pay more in order to acquire new goods as well as to eat more unhealthy food (Garg, Wansink, & Inman, 2007; Lerner, Small, & Loewenstein, 2004). These undesirable consumption effects of sadness typically occur without awareness by those in the sad state; they also typically occur even when the sadness-eliciting events have no rationally-justifiable relation to the consumption choices at hand (Cryder, Lerner, Gross, & Dahl, 2008). Thus, the increased consumption represents more than typical, conscious attempts at “consumer therapy.” Rather, it represents unbidden and undesirable behavior. In two experiments (one with real food consumption and one with real monetary transactions), the present paper examined the hypothesis that sadness’ impact on consumption could be attenuated if the choice context counteracted appraisals of helplessness and enhanced a sense of individual control. Consistent with the hypothesis, results revealed that having a choice of gift (i.e., high individual control), rather than just receiving the very same gift (low individual control) reduced the carry-over of sadness to consumption. Implications for theories of affect and choice are discussed.

Introduction (via Harvard)

Research on incidental emotion has discovered the pervasive tendency of emotions to carry over from one situation to another, coloring behavior in unrelated tasks (for reviews, see Forgas, 1995; Isen, 1993; Keltner & Lerner, 2009; Loewenstein & Lerner, 2003; Schwarz, 2000). Incidental emotions (i.e., normatively irrelevant, prior emotions) have been found to reliably influence numerous aspects of judgment and decision making, such as risk seeking (Johnson & Tversky, 1983; Lerner & Keltner, 2001), information processing (Isen, 2001; Tiedens & Linton, 2001), choice (Garg, Inman, & Mittal, 2005), and financial transactions (Lerner, Small, & Loewenstein, 2004).
One of the most curious carry-over examples involves sadness and consumption. It is curious for at least two reasons. First, its effects depart from what one would predict based on emotional valence. The standard prediction of a valence-based model would be that any negative emotion, including sadness, should trigger generalized negative valuation of, say, a new product. The idea is that a negative state leads one to perceive the world in negative ways. While disgust, another negative emotion, fits that predicted pattern, sadness in fact does not. Sadness actually triggers positive valuation of new products, as measured by willingness to pay (Lerner et al., 2004).
A second curious aspect of sadness and consumption is that the carry-over effect drives consumption behavior across diverse domains. In the domain of eating, for example, sadness (relative to happiness) leads to increased consumption of tasty, fattening food products, such as buttered popcorn and M&M candies (Garg et al., 2007). In the domain of monetary transactions, sadness (relative to a neutral state) leads to increased amount spent to purchase items (Lerner et al., 2004). And the more sad decision makers focus thoughts on themselves during the choice process, the more money they choose to pay in order to acquire a new object — a phenomenon that has been labeled the “misery is not miserly effect” (Cryder, Lerner, Gross, & Dahl, 2008).

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05. March 2010 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Psychology & Sociology | Leave a comment

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