Trait and Situational Antecedents to Non-Consumption

Claire Stammerjohan, Mississippi State University
Cynthia Webster, Mississippi State University
[ to cite ]:
Claire Stammerjohan and Cynthia Webster (2002) ,"Trait and Situational Antecedents to Non-Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, eds. Susan M. Broniarczyk and Kent Nakamoto, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 126-132.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 29, 2002     Pages 126-132


Claire Stammerjohan, Mississippi State University

Cynthia Webster, Mississippi State University

This paper builds on Bagozzi and Warshaw’s (1990) extension of the Fishbein model and further extends Gould, Houston and Mundt’s (1997) conception of failing to try to consume. Specifically, four unique non-consumption behaviors are identified: delay, saving, self-control, and ignoring. Propositions are then developed for the individual trait and situational antecedents of each of the four non-consumption behaviors. Suggestions for future research are presented.


In most of the world, even in third world countries, marketers spend millions of dollars, drachmas, rupees, and yen, to foster consumption as an ideal. Is it working? Many would answer yes. Levy (1963) went so far as to imply that one is what one buys, and Belk (1988) affirms that possessions are indeed included in the "extended self," that is, what one owns plays an integral part in defining oneself. Yet a small but growing body of literature indicates that some consumers feel victimized by marketers (Caudron 1993; Gabriel and Lang 1995), are overwhelmed by the product offerings of marketers (Waldman 1992), and are increasingly turning their backs on the marketplace (Dobscha 1998). Indeed, studies indicate that many American consumers are unhappy with the marketplace and with its portrayal of product as definition of self (Scitovsky 1976), actually abhor shopping (McNeal and McKee 1985), and are increasingly sympathizing with the idea of lifestyle simplication (Leonard-Barton 1981).

Some researchers are already predicting that American consumers as marketers know and love them will ultimately cease to exist (Gabriel and Lang 1995). While this prediction may be extreme, consumer satisfaction with the marketplace, or lack thereof, is constantly a matter of concern to goods and service providers. In one sense, the ultimate gesture of product satisfaction is purchase and consumption, particularly on a repeated basis. Why, then, are growing numbers of consumers are shyng away from consumption and materialism? This paper addresses this question by examining non-consumption behaviors and their antecedents. Specifically, our goal is to refine a typology of non-consumption behaviors and to provide a foundation for propositioning relationships between non-consumption and individual trait and situational antecedents.



In response to the trend of increasing numbers of consumers moving away from a lifestyle characterized by consumption and materialism, there has been considerable interest by marketing academicians in the subject of non-consumption over the past decade. Primarily, researchers have attempted to examine what non-consumption means and to determine how non-consumption should be described. A number of authors have examined non-consumption as active resistance to the consumerism ideal (e.g. Penaloza and Price 1993). Other writers have suggested that consumerism is a poor or even unsustainable lifestyle (Gabriel and Lang 1995; Csikszentmihalyi 2000) and have suggested alternatives such as voluntary simplicity (Elgin 1993). Still other authors have examined non-consumption as "distastes" or disloyalty (e.g. Englis and Solomon 1997) and as a type of lifestyle (Holt and Searles 1994), as self-actualization (Kozinets and Handelman 1998), as environmentalism (De Young 1996), and as "downshifting" (Schor 1998). All these descriptions or behaviors fall into the category of "failing to try to consume"

In addition to the very specific cases addressed by the articles mentioned above, the general sense of "not trying to consume" has been conceptually addressed by two foundational articles. In expanding the Ajzen and Fishbein model of reasoned behavior, Bagozzi and Warshaw (1990) addressed the importance of goals with regard to consumption, specifying three possible scenarios: (1) trying to consume and succeeding (e.g., desiring, purchasing, and using an item), (2) trying to consume and failing (e.g., desiring an item but not being able to find it), and (3) not trying to consume.

Building on Bagozzi and Warshaw’s beginning, GHM (1997) divide the non-consumption case of "not trying to consume" into two types: just not trying, and trying not to try (see the first two columns of Table 1). GHM specify that the first type, "just not trying" includes only the case where the consumer is aware of consumption alternatives, but chooses not to consume. Thus, "just not trying" may exist because of inertia, intervening extraneous factors, satisfaction with current states, self-reliance, and habitual behavior. On the other hand, "trying not to try" may be explained by deferred gratification, asceticism, altruism, self- expression, and resistance.

As can be seen in the last column of Table 1, we introduce a more definitive typology of non-consumption behaviors: delay, saving, self-control, and ignoring. These four behaviors are compatible with, but more explanatory than, GHM’s typology. The GHM typology is lacking because the categories "Just not trying" and "Trying not to try" give no direction as to the antecedents of those non-consumption behaviors. For direction to the antecedents or motivating factors, it is necessary to understand first how the behaviors are actually unique. Thus, inertia and intervening impediments should be categorized together because both pertain to the concept of delay (refusing to make a decision) (see Levy and Weitz 1998). The other three "Just not trying" behaviors, habitualness, satisfaction with current states, and self-reliance, should be clustered together because satisfaction with current states, lack of desire resulting in ignoring alternatives, is the single underlying idea of all three behaviors. (Habitualness implies satisfaction with current states and self-reliance implies making do with what one has, a form of current state satisfaction.) Deferred gratification is mere postponement of consumption, implying choosing one (later) consumption alternative over another. No other non-consumption behavior has this implication; thus delayed gratification behaviors require their own category, saving. Asceticism, altruism, self expression, and resistance all imply resisting one’s own urges. Resisting of oneself is fundamentally different from simply trading one product for another and hence requires its own category: self-control.

Each of the four behaviors in the modified typology, delay, saving, self-control, and ignoring, has the potential to reduce substantially or eliminate completely purchase and consumption. It is crucial, therefore, to understand the antecedents of these four non-consumption behaviors.


Consumption is typically explained by individual trait antecedents (e.g., social class), product characteristic antecedents (e.g., styling), and situational antecedents (e.g., whether the purchase is for personal use or for a gift for someone else) (Mowen 1990). It seems logical that the antecedents that explain consumption will be identical to the ones that underlie non-consumption (see Figure 1). In other words, an individual may avoid consumption because of an individual antecedent (e.g., risk aversion), a product antecedent (e.g., dislike for styling), or because of a situational antecedent (e.g., lack of time).



When a consumer perceives product antecedents as satisfactory, for example, when positively drawn to a product and its inherent characteristics, why would that same consumer choose not to consume? The answer is likely to pertain to the individual difference and situational antecedents. Individual difference (trait) variables are considered to be stable over time with regard to a particular consumer, and situational variables, not temporally stable, are considered to be moderating variables. Thus, we focus next on providing the foundation for propositions regarding the effects of individual trait and situational antecedents on the four non-consumption behaviors.


Studies in psychology suggest two possible motivations for dely (e.g. McCrae and Oliver 1992; Nail and Van Leeuwen 1996). First, delay can be viewed in a negative manner, such as the inability to make a decision due to extreme anxiety. This type of anxiety or distress is known as neurosis, which is one of the five major personality factors (McCrae and Oliver 1992). In consumer behavior, some authors believe that sales pressure or too many choices can cause stress (Fournier et al. 1998). This stress would exacerbate trait anxiety, a type of neurosis. Proposition 1a results:

P1a: There is a significant relationship between neuroticism and the tendency to delay purchase or consumption.

Second, delay can be viewed as a positive behavior. In this case, the motivation is psychological reactance, a strong adverse reaction to a perceived threat or unwanted advice (Nail and Van Leuwen 1996). While this definition perhaps implies an overreaction, two theories are presented why this implication is invalid. One theory is that psychological reactance can be a self-presentation issue, a refusal to accept a submissive role in an encounter. A second theory is "effectance," which means that when one’s control of one’s environment is threatened, one will try to reestablish control immediately. Both of these theoretical explanations are consistent with a general nay-saying of consumers who feel victimized by marketing practice, overwhelmed by product choice, and/or information overload (e.g. Waldman 1992). Therefore, the theory of psychological reactance suggests that in the presence of too much product choice or information overload, consumers will choose to delay consumption. Proposition 1b results.

P1b: There is a significant positive relationship between product choice overload and the tendency to delay purchase.

The contingent nature of this proposition should be noted. Effects of psychological reactance are precipitated by situational variables. Rather than a personality factor per se, psychological reactance is a general motivational theory presumed to apply to all individuals to varying degrees under varying circumstances.

However, psychological reactance implies several trait antecedents that would tend the individual to stronger psychological reactance. One implied trait is low susceptibility to interpersonal suggestion. Hellman and McMillin (1997) propose a positive relationship between psychological reactance and self-esteem, but their results were equivocal. However, their logic remains compelling. Propositions 1c and 1d follow.

P1c: There is a significant negative relationship between susceptibility to interpersonal suggestion and the tendency to delay purchase.

P1d: There is a significant positive relationship between self-esteem and thetendency to delay purchase.

Two other traits related to delay, risk aversion and self-monitoring are discussed later in the paper because they are even more closely associated with other non-consumption behaviors. Self-monitoring, like psychological reactance, is highly situational.

Situational influences. Situational influences for delay can be internal, such as a temporary mood state or having insufficient information to make a decision. Situational influences can also be external, such as lacking resources (a proposition regarding resources is developed later in this manuscript). Another external influence may be the consumer perceiving a valid reason to delay consumption (e.g., delay hairstyling until immediately before a special event). Yet another reason for delay may simply be delay, the desire to keep options open (note the "effectance" or psychological reactance issue here). The fungibility of money provides options and is one justification of saving, the second non-consumption behavior.




Saving behavior pertains to trading one product for another, whether when actually shopping or when saving over time for a future goal. Saving is unique among the "Not trying to consume" behaviors in that it acknowledges non-consumption’s potential for alternative purchases. Studies done primarily in the economics field indicate that a psychological trait affecting savings preferences is risk-aversion (e.g. Wallace and Mathur 1990). Logically, risk aversion should positively influence savings behavior, thereby reducing purchase and consumption behavior. Proposition P2a results.

P2a: There is a significant positive relationship between risk aversion and the tendency to save.

Situational influences. According to economists, situational influences on saving behavior include available resources and family needs that change over time (e.g. Bernstein 1992). As a family’s economic needs grow during child rearing or senior care, less money is available for saving. In this paper, we consider age as a proxy for family life cycle stage. Wallace and Mathur (1990) studied the saving behavior of the mature consumer as a competitor to consumption, and found that the benefits of "holding wealth" a viable alternative to a postponement explanation of saving behavior. In other words, these authors concluded that holding wealth met current self-esteem needs of older consumers. Therefore, we predict that age will be a factor in predicting saving behavior:

P2b: At higher levels of risk aversion, age will increase the effects of risk aversion on saving.

The other major situational variable, resources, is generally assumed to be positively associated with consumption. However, the availability of resources is also positively associated with the non-consumption behavior, saving. Thus, availability of resources is expected to positively affect the relationship between risk aversion and saving.

P2c: At higher levels of risk aversion, resources will increase the effects of risk aversion on saving.


Self-control is unique among the "Trying not to consume" behaviors in that it is both an individual difference variable and a societal value, it is both a means and an end.

With respect to viewing self-control as an individual difference variable, one study found that retail environment has more effect on less self-controlled shoppers than on more self-controlled shoppers. In other words, environmental effects are moderated by self-control (Babin et al. 1995). On the other hand, Hoch and Lowenstein (1991) found that self-control, modeled as the balance between will-power and desire, is moderated by situational influences such as physical or temporal proximity and social comparison. Social norms, in the form of attitude toward the action of purchasing in a particular context, also moderate self-control (Rook and Fisher 1995).

Recent research suggests that self-control is best modeled as a depletable reserve of strength that can be enhanced through exercise (Muraven et al. 1998; Muraven et al. 1999). Muraven’s (1999) strength reservoir is analogous to willpower as discussed by Hoch and Lowenstein (1991). Indeed Muraven et al. (1998) argue that the strength model is implicit in the traditional concept of willpower, and it has been found that the lack of willpower is an issue for many impulsive or compulsive consumers (Hirschman 1992; Hoch and Lowenstein 1991). Wertenbroch (1998) found that consumer demand for vice increased less because of price reductions than consumer demand for virtue, even though consumers do not always prefer virtue. Wertenbroch ascribes this behavior to deliberate rationing of vices and virtues, in other words, a self-control strategy. Cognition plays a role in several of these strategies, such as bundling of costs, time binding, regret and guilt (Hoch and Lowenstein 1991). Hoch and Loewenstein (1991) also show how self-control can be influenced by environmental and intrinsic factors, such as physical or temporal proximity. They further speculate that self-control may evolve over the family life cycle, thus introducing the need to include situational factors in the analysis.

Marketing academicians also see self-control as a value in its own right (Thompson and Hirschman 1995), and non-consumption may be is exercise. This value has its roots in religion and philosophy and results in consumer behavior. An example of this linkage is found in consumers’ concern for fitness and health (Thompson and Hirschman 1995). Supposedly, an ideology of self-control drives a cultural idealization of youthfulness, a belief in an essential self that may escape the constraints of the body, and a belief that technology can control the natural world and liberate the self (note the effectance issue here). Thus, self-control is certainly an instrumental value, and possibly acquires the status of a terminal value, having value or utility in its own right.

And, in fact, self-control provides several types of utilities, such as reinforcing self-image, or attempting to change corporate behavior through consumer boycotts. This deliberate non-consumption behavior, whether expressing disapproval of the marketplace (Dobscha 1998; Gabriel and Lang 1995) or enacting a practical value such as frugality or voluntary simplicity (Lastovicka et al. 1999; Leonard Burton 1990), is actually a threat to consumption, because it can imply permanent reductions in consumption. In other words, the societal value (self-control: SC) reinforces the individual difference variable (SC) in performing the non-consumption behavior (SC). The following proposition has already been verified by Hoch and Loewenstein (1991), however it is included here for purposes of replication and consistency.

P3a: There is a significant positive relationship between the individual difference variable, self-control, and the non-consumption behavior, self-control.

There are three other individual difference variables associated with self control, need for cognition, ability to delay gratification, and frugality. Each is discussed in turn.

Need for cognition. One often uses reasoning with oneself as a strategy to exercise self-control. Reasoning self-control strategies include time-binding, economic reevaluation, and anticipated guilt (Hoch and Lowenstein 1991). The ability to reason with oneself implies significant cognition; likewise, saving relates to cognition, substituting a later greater utility for a smaller, more immediate good. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect that individuals who have a relatively high need for cognition will exhibit more self-control and saving behavior in consumption situations than their low need-for-cognition counterparts. Thus,

P3b: There is a significant positive relationship between need-for-cognition and self control non-consumption behavior.

P3c: There is a significant positive relationship between need-for-cognition and saving non-consumption behavior.

Delay of gratification. Self-control is also associated with the ability to delay gratification (Funder et al 1983). Compared to those who have a tendency toward immediate gratification, individuals who delay gratification tend to be deliberative, able to concentrate, reasonable, self-controlled, resourceful, and competet. Propositions 3d and 3e result.

P3d: There will be a significant positive relationship between the ability to delay gratification and self-control.

P3e: There will be a significant positive relationship between the ability to delay gratification and saving.

The ability to delay gratification is epitomized by the concept of frugality.

Frugality. An alternative and more troubling aspect of self-control is expressed by the concept of frugality (Lastovicka et al. 1999). Frugality, defined by Lastovicka et al. (1999), is a lifestyle "characterized by the degree to which consumers are both restrained in acquiring and resourcefully in using economic goods and services to achieve longer-term goals" (p 88). The frugal see themselves as disciplined in spending, resourceful in using, less impulsive, and less susceptible to interpersonal influence. Frugality is different from ecocentrism and value consciousness. In nomological testing, the frugality trait was negatively related to materialism and interpersonal susceptibility, but positively related to resourceful usage. Frugality was also negatively associated with cognitive failures to recognize the fungibility of money (Lastovicka et al. 1999). Note that the achievement of longer-term goals (from the above definition) may also be described as ability to delay gratification. Thus we see frugality associated with self-control and saving behaviors.

P3f: There will be a significant positive relationship between frugality and self-control behaviors.

P3g: There will be a significant positive relationship between frugality and saving behaviors.

As we have examined controlled behavior, it is also necessary to consider its opposite: impulsive or compulsive behavior.

Impulsive/compulsive behavior. Consumer compulsive behavior is defined by O’Guinn and Faber as "an uncontrollable drive or desire to obtain, use, or experience a feeling, substance, or activity that leads an individual to repetitively engage in a behavior that will ultimately cause harm to the individual and/or others" (1989, p.147). Hirschman (1992) describes compulsive consumers as alternately self-doubting, or characterized by irrisistable impulses as described in Hoch and Loewenstein (1991). Hirschman also states that compulsive consumers try to use consumption to help establish an identity in the face of dissatisfaction with their own identity. While compulsive behaviors may be considered pathological, impulsive behavior is a more general phenomenon; however, both may be partially explained by the concept of need for stimulation.

Need for stimulation. Psychologists generally concur that some level of stimulation is desired by humans (e.g. Scitovsky 1976). In an attempt to reach a desired stimulation level, individuals engage in sensation-seeking behavior. Related to sensation-seeking behavior are both impulsive and compulsive behavior (Hirschman 1992). In consumer contexts, sensation-seeking and need for stimulation are often associated with variety-seeking (e.g. Van Trijp et al. 1996). As an individual difference variable, the need for stimulation is expected to result in more compulsive and impulsive behaviors, nd therefore, in less self-control and saving behaviors. Thus, the following proposition suggests that need for stimulation will be associated with less self-control and saving.

P3g: There will be a significant negative relationship between a high need for stimulation and self-control and saving behaviors.

On an entirely different track and expressing an entirely unique dimension of not trying, the fourth non-consumption behavior, ignoring, implies no need for self-control because the consumable is not desired in the first place.


Simply put, ignoring means a lack of desire. An ongoing lack of desire is expressed by the concept of consumer voluntary simplicity (Leonard-Burton 1981), and adoption of this concept translates to a fundamental rejection of consumerism. Voluntary simplicity may be a modern example of the historical frugality of the American frontier (Lastovicka et al. 1999) or an enactment of values expressed through non-consumption such as described by Belk (1986). However, it is uncertain whether the values associated with voluntary simplicity currently explain ignoring.

Voluntary simplicity. Perhaps the most philosophical or value-laden reason for non-consumption is voluntary simplicity, which implies reducing the clutter, particularly material clutter, in one’s life (Dorothy Leonard-Barton (1981). Five basic values are attributed to the voluntary simplicity lifestyle: material simplicity, self-determination, ecological awareness, human scale (a desire for smaller institutions), and personal growth based on "inner life" (Elgin and Mitchell 1977). These values suggest several propositions, with material simplicity and personal growth implying moving away from consumption for self-definition, and ecological awareness and human scale sometimes fueling active resistance to the marketplace.

Material simplicity. Logically, material simplicity results from lesser need for stimulation and/or symbolic interaction. This premise is also consistent with the personal growth based on "inner life" value in that personal growth may replace more "external" needs. Lesser need for stimulation is expected to lower the experiential benefits of consumption.

P4a: There will be a significant positive relationship between material simplicity and ignoring.

Likewise, lower need for symbolic interaction is expected to be reflected by the increased importance of "inner life." Since lower need for sybolic interaction with peers may result in less sensitivity to social cues (Browne and Kaldenberg 1997), such persons are likely to be low self-monitors.

Self-monitoring. Defined as the "tendency to notice cues for socially appropriate behavior and modify one’s behavior accordingly" (Browne and Kaldenberg 1997, p. 31), self-monitoring has been found to affect consumption behavior. For example, product and brand choice often reflect a high self-monitor’s desire for prestige and appearance (Browne and Kaldenberg 1997). On the other hand, low self-monitors tend to lack need for symbolic interaction. Therefore, individuals who are relatively low in self-monitoring are more likely to embrace the values of material simplicity and other non-consumption behaviors. Proposition 4b reflects this notion.

P4b: There will be a significant negative relationship between self-monitoring and ignoring.

Low self-monitoring, that is, failing to look to others for behavioral cues, should not be confused with either low self-control or low self-determination.

Self determination. Individuals who score high on the voluntary simplicity index have been found to be capable "do-it-yourselfers" (Leonard-Barton 1980). This finding suggests that consumers who acquire and use skills to perform tasks themselves tend to value independence. Such skills enable one to incorporate more independence with respect to the marketplace.

Further support for the self-determination and non-consumption linkage comes from effectance theory (Nail and Van Leuwen 1996). That is, the ability to control the environment without resorting to the marketplace is a sign of personal effectiveness. Also, personal effectiveness, that is, "pride of skill," is described as a type of utility by Lowenstein (1999) and self-reliance is mentioned by GHM as a reason for non-consumption. Therefore, we expect that self-reliant consumers will seek fewer solutions in the marketplace than more dependent counterparts.

P4c: There will be a significant positive relationship between self-determination (or self-reliance) and each of the four non-consumption behaviors.

Ecological awareness and human-scale. Often ecological awareness is the catalyst for persons who actively resist what they see as a wasteful society (Dobscha 1998). Thus, ecological awareness plays a large role in reduced consumption for many consumers, particularly with regard to products related to energy and natural resources (Leonard-Barton 1981).

Similarly, the desire for "human scale," that is, a desire for institutions that are reduced to a more approachable size, can motivate resistance to consumerism. A number of authors have examined non-consumption as active resistance to the consumerist ideal. For instance, Penaloza and Price (1993) outline a typology of consumer resistance in terms of organizational level (individual to collective), goals (reform to radical disruption), aims of tactics (chnge corporate behavior to appropriation), and working within vs. working from outside. Further, the experience of boycotting has been described as "morally transforming" and "individualizing", that is, as a statement of self-identity (Kozinets and Handelman 1998) and as "marketplace exit" (Hermann 1993).

We therefore expect that ecological awareness, preference for "human scale," and/or voluntary simplicity will lead to reduced consumption behaviors.

P4d: There will be a significant positive relationship between ecological awareness and preference for "human scale" and each of the four non-consumption behaviors.

Situational influences. There are two principal situational influences that contribute to ignoring or lack of desire. One is satiation versus privation. How much or how little has been recently consumed? With some situational variation, how much is enough depends on trait influences. For example, in a consumer application, imagine a fine meal in a good restaurant. No matter how delicious, eventually, the consumer has simply had enough. What defines enough is likely to be a personality trait such as frugality, in the case of the non-consumer, or compulsiveness in the case of the over-eater. Another situational cause for ignoring may be the presence of a competing product in the home (e.g. I have a cooking pot my grandmother gave me, why should I need another?) If consumers have strong bonds with the things they own, they are less likely to be willing to replace with new ones.


This study makes an exploratory examination of an important and interesting topic: Why do consumers fail to try to consume? It expands the work of Bagozzi and Warshaw (1990) and Gould, Houston and Mundt (1997) by identifying a more descriptive typology of non-consumption behaviors and by identifying some of the trait and situational antecedents of those behaviors.

Because the situational antecedents are less temporally stable, they were considered as modifiers. However, it is possible that the more important variables are situational, and that the traits are better modeled as modifiers. In future research, we will determine whether individual traits or situational variables are better predictors of non-consumption.

The examination of individual difference trait antecedents assumes that consumers make decisions consistently over time. However, individuals can learn and change; further, environmental changes can increase or decrease the appropriateness of a particular method of choice. Therefore, future research should consider the possible intervening effects of state antecedents such as mood. Additionally, further research could examine the role of motivation theories in non-consumption decisions: these theories are more general in nature, and deal with motivations that affect all consumers rather than dealing with individual differences as we have in this paper. Finally, future research could test the reasonableness of two common assumptions: that consumers know what they want, and that consumers have perfect or near-perfect knowledge of the marketplace.

To better understand non-consumption, including its behaviors and antecedents, consumer behaviorists need to get some grounding as to which ideas are on the right track. Future research might involve an exploratory study using depth interviews of consumers who are purposefully decreasing consumption and materialism to ascertain the reasons for failing to try to consume. Second, an empirical study using discriminant analysis may be helpful in identifying the more important or more general trait antecedents and their situational modifiers.


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