Self-Regulation and Impulsive Spending Patterns

Kathleen Vohs, University of Utah
Ronald Faber, University of Minnesota
ABSTRACT - The current research relates self-control and purchasing decisions. This research was derived from a model that states that all self-regulatory abilities, such as overriding impulses and inhibiting emotions, are governed by a common Cbut limited Cpool of resources. Accordingly, engaging in self-control renders a person weaker in subsequent self-control. In two laboratory experiments, we manipulated self-regulatory resource availability and then assessed spending choices. We found that participants lower in self-regulatory resources endorsed a more impulsive buying style (Experiment 1) and said they would pay more for high-priced products (Experiment 2), relative to participants with more regulatory resources.
[ to cite ]:
Kathleen Vohs and Ronald Faber (2003) ,"Self-Regulation and Impulsive Spending Patterns", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 125-126.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 125-126

SELF-REGULATION AND IMPULSIVE SPENDING PATTERNS

Kathleen Vohs, University of Utah

Ronald Faber, University of Minnesota

ABSTRACT -

The current research relates self-control and purchasing decisions. This research was derived from a model that states that all self-regulatory abilities, such as overriding impulses and inhibiting emotions, are governed by a common Cbut limited Cpool of resources. Accordingly, engaging in self-control renders a person weaker in subsequent self-control. In two laboratory experiments, we manipulated self-regulatory resource availability and then assessed spending choices. We found that participants lower in self-regulatory resources endorsed a more impulsive buying style (Experiment 1) and said they would pay more for high-priced products (Experiment 2), relative to participants with more regulatory resources.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

The current research investigates the association between people’s self-regulatory capacities and personal spending decisions, especially in relation to impulsive purchasing behaviors. Theoretical writings have linked self-regulatory processes with consumer choices (Baumeister 2002) and past empirical research has found a clear and significant relationship between compulsive spending patterns and binge eating behaviors, which are two indicators of low self-control (Faber, Christenson, De Zwaan, and Mitchell 1995), but prior to the current research the underlying processes of self-regulation have not been directly related to ersonal spending decisions.

The current research uses a self-regulatory resource model to test the influence of self-control processes on consumer behaviors. Self-regulatory resources are theorized to govern self-regulatory abilities. Making sound, rational, spending decisions requires that a person call upon self-regulation abilities. Exhausting self-regulatory resources should then result in poor personal spending choices. The words "self-regulation" and "self-control" are used interchangeably here, with both terms meaning the influence of the self over one’s own emotions, cognitions, motivations, and behaviors, usually manifesting itself as a desirable response being inserted in place of an undesirable response.

Behavioral scientists have long conceptualized the process of self-regulation as occurring within a cybernetic model in which people work to close discrepancies between perceived current state and the ultimate goal state (Carver and Scheier 1981). People set standards or goals for themselves and subsequently engage in responses designed to move the self from its current state to the goal state. The resource model considers self-regulation as critical in enabling people to progress from current to desired states. The resource model further states that self-regulatory abilities are governed by a commonCbut limitedCpool of resources on which people draw to manage a variety of responses, such as emotions, cognitions, or behaviors. Because these responses pull from a general bank of resources, each act of self-control depletes some of these resources and consequently renders a person temporarily less able to engage in further acts of self-control. Empirical research using the resource model has supported its assertions: Using a dual-task paradigm, participants who have been asked to engage in a task that uses self-control are subsequently less able to accomplish a second regulatory task. For instance, research has shown that after dieters have had to resist the temptation of an nearby bowl of candies, relative to when there are no attractive temptations, they are later less able to persist in trying to solve a difficult puzzle (Vohs and Heatherton 2000). Thus, exerting self-control by having to resist the temptation of the candies rendered the dieters less able to exert self-control on the persistence task.

In this tradition, the current research used a dual-task paradigm in two experiments to test whether exerting self-regulatory resources lessens people’s ability to make sound consumer choices. In both experiments, we manipulated self-regulatory resource availability using an attention-control task. Specifically, participants were asked watch a video of a woman being interviewed that, at the same time, also contained a series of irrelevant words appearing at the bottom of the screen. For half of the participants (no-control condition participants), no information was given regarding the words that were to appear on the screen. The other half (attentional-control condition participants), were told that it was very important to watch only the woman in the video and to keep their eyes away from the words. This task has been shown in prior research to deplete self control resources.

After the manipulation of self-regulatory resource availability, Experiment 1 participants were subsequently asked to indicate their agreement with items from a version of the Impulsive Buying Scale (Rook and Fisher 1995). The scale asked participants to report how they would respond on the eight Impulsive Buying Scale items if they were in a buying situation at the moment. We found that participants in the attention-control condition, relative to those in the no-control condition, were significantly more likely to say they would be impulsive buyers, with less careful consideration given before making purchases.

After the manipulation of self-regulatory resource availability, participants in Experiment 2 were asked to indicate the price they would pay for 18 products (e.g., refrigerator; watch). This simulated buying method has been used in past studies of social influences on purchasing patterns (Feinberg 1986) and hee it is used to assess the propensity to make expensive purchases. We found that participants who had expended regulatory resources in the earlier task (i.e., who were in the attention-control condition) indicated that they would pay significantly more money for the products compared to participants who had not expended regulatory resources (i.e., who were in the no-control condition).

The results of two laboratory experiments indicate that being depleted of self-regulatory resources leads people to buy impulsively and to be willing to spend more money on a variety of products. In sum, self-regulatory processes are implicated in consumer decisions, such that when self-control capacities are impaired, people are more likely to engage in ill-considered and unwise spending behaviors.

REFERENCES

Baumeister, Roy F. (2002), "Yielding to Temptation: Self-Control Failure, Impulsive Purchasing, and Consumer Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (March), 670-676.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Vohs, Kathleen D. (in press), "Self-Regulation and the Executive Function of the Self," in Handbook of Self and Identity, ed. Mark R. Leary and June P. Tangney, New York: Guilford Press.

Carver, Charles S., & Scheier, Michael F. (1981), Attention and self-regulation: A control theory approach to human behavior, New York: Springer-Verlag.

Faber, Ronald J., Christenson, Gary A., De Zwaan, Martina, and Mitchell, James (1995), "Two Forms of Compulsive Consumption: Comorbidity of Compulsive Buying and Binge Eating," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (December), 296-304.

Feinberg, Richard A. (1986), "Credit Cards as Spending Facilitating Stimuli: A Conditioning Interpretation," Journal of Consumer Research, 13 (December), 348-356.

Rook, Dennis, and Fisher, Robert J. (1995), "Normative Influences on Impulsive Buying Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (December), 305-313.

Vohs, Kathleen D., and Heatherton, Todd F. (2000), "Self-Regulation Failure: A Resource-Depletion Approach," Psychological Science, 11 (May), 249-254.

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