Consumer Behavior and the Wayward Mind: the Influence of Mania and Depression on Consumption

ABSTRACT - Our focus is on the millions of American consumers who experience the affective mental disorders known as mania and depression. Despite the influence of manic-depression and recurrent depression on a significant segment of the American population, very few research inquiries have attempted to explore the effects that these states have on consumption. To redress this omission, we examine the emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects of mania and depression using genetic, historic, and clinical evidence. We argue tht the mania-depression continuum describes relationships among several consumption phenomena previously thought to be unrelated, including risk-taking, sensation seeking, product involvement, innovativeness and hedonic consumption.


Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Barbara B. Stern (1998) ,"Consumer Behavior and the Wayward Mind: the Influence of Mania and Depression on Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 421-427.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998      Pages 421-427


Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Rutgers University

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University

[The authors wish to thank Debra Wentz, Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies and Dr. Francis J. McMahon of the Department of Psychiatry, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, for their advice and expertise.]


Our focus is on the millions of American consumers who experience the affective mental disorders known as mania and depression. Despite the influence of manic-depression and recurrent depression on a significant segment of the American population, very few research inquiries have attempted to explore the effects that these states have on consumption. To redress this omission, we examine the emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects of mania and depression using genetic, historic, and clinical evidence. We argue tht the mania-depression continuum describes relationships among several consumption phenomena previously thought to be unrelated, including risk-taking, sensation seeking, product involvement, innovativeness and hedonic consumption.

Our present focus is on the millions of American consumers who experience the affective mental disorders known as mania and depression. [See Table 1 for a list of symptoms] Approximately 20% (one in five) of American women and 6% (one in fifteen) of American men experience recurrent depression. Further, between 1% and 2% of American men and women experience the symptoms of both mania and depressionCthat is, between 2,700,000 and 5,400,000 consumers exhibit manic-depression, a psychiatric condition of cyclically recurring mania and depression (Stine et al. 1995). Experts estimate that many times this number experience a milder, often undiagnosed form of manic-depression called cyclothymia (Goodwin and Jamison 1990).

Persons with manic-depression experience the full spectrum of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms, whereas those with recurrent depression experience a truncated range from 'normalcy’ to depression. Nonetheless, "most individuals who have manic-depressive illnesses are normal most of the time; that is, they maintain their reason and their ability to function personally and professionally" (Jamison 1992, p. 16). Thus, most of the consumers who have manic-depression and recurrent depression are able to live in society and spend the majority of their time operating within the "normal" boundaries of human experience (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). Those with mild to moderate manic-depressive symptoms , i.e., cyclothymia, are often able to control their mood swings by taking daily medication and/or undergoing therapy. But the mood swings cannot be eliminated entirelyCthey are an inherent part of the manic-depressive temperament (Goodwin and Jamison 1990).

Despite the influence of manic-depression and recurrent depression on a very large segment of the American consumer population, virtually no research inquiries have attempted to explore the effects that these states have on consumption. The purpose of the present inquiry is to redress this omission by examining the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral influences of mania and depression on consumer behavior. To conduct our inquiry, we first examine genetic, clinical, and autobiographical evidence regarding the influence of mania and depression on consumption. We next use mania and depression to construct a consumer behavior continuum, and argue that the mania-depression continuum can account for several consumption phenomena previously thought to be unrelated. These include risk-taking, sensation seeking, product involvement, addiction, innovativeness, information search and hedonic consumption. We end with a discussion of the implications of mania and depression for consumption.


As early as the fifth century B.C., Hippocrates recognized mania and depression as episodic mental states often recurring in seasonal patterns. Spring and fall were identified as peak times for depressive manifestations and summer for mania (Jamison 1993). These observations are now supported by neuropsychological data linking the changes to cyclical light variations. Some psychiatrists find that 90% of the general population experiences some degree of seasonal variation in mood (Kasper et al. 1989), where "mood" is defined as an antecedent affectve state that is transient, generalized, and often pervasive (see Gardner 1985, 1987 and Knowles, Grove, and Burroughs 1993 for reviews). The emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components of mania and depression were first described over a century ago by the German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin (Hershman and Lieb 1988), the clinician who defined the symptomology of manic-depressive illness.

Throughout the twentieth century, the recurrence of manic-depression and depression in several generations of a family led to the hypothesis that genetic causality was at work (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). In the 1990s, genetic researchers working in conjunction with the Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA) and Johns Hopkins University Medical Center isolated a small set of candidate gene sites as the likely origin. Genetic aberrations in individuals experiencing manic-depression and recurrent depression were found to cause variability in the individual’s production of mood-regulating hormones such as serotonin. Whereas normal levels of serotonin regulate stability and consistency of mood, abnormal or fluctuating levels trigger emotional instability. Although the genetic paths of maternal and paternal transmission differ, children may inherit tendencies to develop these affective disorders from either or both parents. A predisposition to manic-depression and recurrent depression is now believed to be transmitted paternally (Stine et al 1995) via two and possibly three sites on chromosome 18. Analogously, a predisposition to manic-depression and recurrent depression is believed transmitted maternally via mitochondrial DNA (McMahon et al. 1995).

Insofar as persons affected by manic-depression and recurrent depression tend to be attracted to one another, a phenomenon termed assortative mating (McMahon et al. 1995), reproduction reinforces the tendencies toward affective disorders in the general population. One consequence is that more severe and/or earlier symptoms may appear in succeeding generations (McInnis et al. 1993), a phenomenon termed anticipation. It is now deemed likely that genetic traits coupled with traumatic life events, such as child abuse or serious illness, are likely to trigger the most severe forms of manic-depression (Jamison and MacInnis 1996). However, the genes themselves are so widespread in the population that, as Raymond de Paulo states, "It’s conceivable that a staggering number of us, maybe even half the population, could be carrying one of the genes involved in manic-depression" (Worthington, 1995, p. 5). Although the precise number of people experiencing milder forms of manic-depression may be anywhere from 1 in 15 to 1 in 2 (6% to 50%), even the low figure represents a large population group whose consumption habits are worth examining.




To begin the examination of this consumer population, we pursued a multi-method inquiry premised on a potential relationship between mania, depression, and consumer behavior. We began with historical sources to access the tradition of association between manic-depression and consumption behavior (Goodwin and Jamison 1990; Jamison 1993). We next consulted genetic studies to discern the hereditary pathways generating the disorder (see e.g., McInnis et al 1993; McMahon et al 1994, 1995). We supplemented the clinical/genetic literature with biographical studies of prominent persons now considered to have had manic-depression and/or depression (for example, Newton, Beethoven, Dickens, and Van Gogh;see Hershman and Lieb 1988) as well as current autobiographical texts by persons now diagnosed as manic-depressive (Duke and Hochman 1992; Jamison 1995).


Table Two summarizes the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of mania/depression and cyclothymia, a milder form of the syndrome. Column 1 lists the conditions along the manic-depressive continuum ranging from pronounced clinical states that require institutionalization to moderate and mild manifestations that blend imperceptibly into normal behavior. Column 2 lists the emotional concomitants of each state. It reflects the American Psychiatric Association classification of these conditions as affective disorders (Goodwin and Jamison 1990)Cemotional triggers that drive cognitive and behavioral responses important to consumer behavior. Column 3 lists the cognitive concomitants (Allen, Machleit, and Kleine, 1992; Gardner 1985; Holbrook and Batra 1987). Column 4 lists the consumption effects associated with the continuum of mania and depression. Note that some of these effects are among the diagnostic criteria set forth by the American Psychiatric Association (see Table One and Goodwin and Jamison 1990). Let us begin with a discussion of the emotional aspects of the continuum.

Clinical Mania: The high end of the continuum is the state of clinical mania, which manifests itself as extreme euphoria unconnected to any real-world event. It is often accompanied by disrupted cognition, with the manic individual exhibiting grandiose delusions such as viewing him/herself as God or royalty, claiming prophetic powers, or insisting that supernatural beings communicate with him/her. Ordinarily this state requires institutionalization, but nowadays this is often temporary. That is, patients can be stabilized and then deinstitutionalized, rather than locked out of society indefinitely.

Hypomania: The category of affect milder than clinical mania is termed hypomania, a state of low-to-mild mania that is considered quite pleasant by many persons who experience it. Consumers in this state feel buoyant, happy, and are filled with self-confidence. They are gregarious and sociable, often seeking out people with whom to interact. Their good humor, wit, and charm attracts people, and they may be charismatic leaders. In terms of consumption traits, hypomanic people demonstrate boldness, venturesomeness, and the urge to explore, which energizes the risk-taking attitudes associated with innovativeness and novelty-seeking.

Typically, hypomania is accompanied by intensified sensory and aesthetic responsiveness (Hershman and Lieb 1988) in which colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures are experienced in a heightened way as exceptionally vivid and pleasurable. In contrast, as we discuss below, the depressive emotional range is characterized by decreased responsiveness to external sensory stimulation, with internal mood states blocking positive responses to hedonic and aesthetic pleasure (see Goodwin and Jamison 1990).

Depression: Below the mid-point of the continuum is the range of emotions identified as "depressed," including irritability, anxiety, self-doubt, lethargy, and social withdrawal (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). At the extreme of clinical depression, individuals may feel so profound a sense of hopelessness that they think about committing suicide. Just as hypomania has profound implications for consumer behavior, so too does mild-to-moderat depression.



Kay Jamison, a professor of clinical psychology who coauthored the definitive medical text (Manic-Depressive Illness 1990), describes her own depressive state in the pages below:

From the time I woke up in the morning until the time I went to bed at night, I was unbearably miserable and seemingly incapable of any kind of joy or enthusiasm. EverythingCevery thought, word, movementCwas an effort. Everything that once was sparkling, now was flat. I seemed to myself to be dull, boring, inadequate, thick brained, unlit, unresponsive, chill skinned, bloodless, and sparrow drab. I doubted, completely, my ability to do anything well. It seemed as though my mind had slowed down and burned out to the point of being virtually useless. The wretched, convoluted, and pathetically confused mass of gray worked only well enough to torment me with a dreary litany of my inadequacies and shortcomings in character, and to taunt me with the total, the desperate, hopelessness of it all... Over and over and over I would say to myself, If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living? (1995, pp. 110-11).

Often the tendency for these consumers is to attempt to hide their depressive selves from public view and only allow their 'bad’ side to emerge privately (see Duke and Hochman 1992). Nonetheless, the "bad sides" burst forth, and these consumers can suddenly turn hostile, despondent, morbid, or abusive. Their mutability can be disconcerting to retailers and other consumers, especially in high-contact situations (for example, shouting at another patron in a restaurant, verbally abusing a checkout clerk in the supermarket, and so forth).


Table 2, column 3 summarizes the range of thought patterns from mania to depression, the two end points of emotion-driven cognition.

Clinical Mania: At this end point, individuals typically experience sensory and perceptual hallucinations; that is, they manufacture mental constructions of visual images, sounds, smells, and so forth that are not present in the physical world, but that appear real to them. Cognitive delusions such as the conviction that voices speak to the person or that s/he is being pursued by enemies often accompany hallucination. So too does disjointed thinking, in which thoughts come at such great speed and in such random order that they are jumbled and often tumble out helter-skelter.

Clinical Depression: At the opposite end, in severe clinical depression, cognition is impaired by a retardation of information processing and an absence of original or creative thought. The individual may be unable to complete sentences or may "lose" thoughts before they can be verbally expressed. Between the two clinical extremes of mania and depression, consumers exhibit a wide range of cognitive activity driven by elevated ordepressed emotional states.

Hypomanic Cognition: Increased powers of cognition associated with the hypomanic state are characteristic of cyclothymic consumers in the "up" phase of their cycle and have significant implications for consumer behavior. Hershman and Lieb point out that this is the thought pattern most often associated with creativity (1988, p. 13):

Philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and others in scholarly professions receive from mania a general heightening of intellectual processes, including the ability to remember whatever they need, an abundance of insights and original ideas, seemingly effortless comprehension, and the capacity to construct and work with complex structures of thought. All of this happens at increasing speed.

Hypomania endows the writer and poet with greater access to their vocabularies, with spontaneous similes and metaphors, with an expanded imagination, and an augmented native eloquence. Hypomanic artists experience increased sensitivity to the visual qualities of the outer world and in their own work. Whatever the sphere of creativity, the hypomanic may benefit from all of these gifts, not only from those particularly helpful in his own metier.

Hypomania also bestows abnormal energy and an insistent urge to do something. In the creative individual this is experienced as a need to work, as the "creative urge."

Jamison’s (1993) study of gifted manic-depressives, such as Lord Byron, characterizes information processing during hypomania as rapid and ideationally fluent. The person experiences flights of ideas that arise effortlessly in the course of cross-category processing and evidences enhanced ability to create metaphoric imagery. Hypomania also heightens recall from long-term memory and facilitates the enlargement of working or active memory, so that greater than normal amounts of information can be evaluated (Jamison 1993).

Hypomanic thought is both creative in content and spontaneous in origin. The increase in processing ability without any conscious effort during hypomania has significant implications for consumer behavior, for hypomanic consumers have the ability to construct complex cognitions by drawing on deep reserves of stored data, combining it in novel ways, and reaching decisions rapidly. Their processing mode approximates what Petty and Cacciopo call high "need for cognition" (1986), an individual difference proposed to have impact on "aspects of the consumption and learning processes" (Bettman 1979, p. 289).

However, in this consumer group, the 'need for cognition’ is sporadic. In this regard, the assumption that underlies much processing researchCthat consumers repeatedly activate the same cognitive structure to speed up decision-making and engage in cross-category processing (Alba and Hutchinson 1987; Cohen and Basu 1987)Cneeds to be reassessed. Cyclothymic and manic-depressive consumers seem more likely to activate different cognitive structures, depending on the dominant stage of their emotional cycle. That is, differences may occur on a within-individual basis for this consumer group.

Further, and perhaps more important, by manic-depressive and cyclothymic consumers usually cannot control the onset or cessation of hypomanic processing. Their heightened ability often occurs at random, which suggests that research methods based on prompts (for example, protocol analysis; see Bettman 1979) may not yield useful data about information processing in this group. It is ironic that those consumers who are at times the most gifted at processing information rapidly and effectivly may also be the least equipped at a given moment to satisfy research inquiries.

Depressed Cognition: In contrast to the complexity and fluidity of hypomanic thought, depressed cognition tends to be labored, restricted, and impoverished (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). During depression, the consumer’s sensory-perceptual system becomes sluggish, and attention to external stimuli is so intermittent that important information can be overlooked or ignored. Analogously, retrieval from internal memory stores is not only slow, but also poorly chunked in comparison to the individual’s non-depressed retrieval process. Working or active memory capacity is diminished, and the depressed consumer may find that all thought is tedious (Hershman and Lieb 1988). Typically, those who are moderately to severely depressed find it so difficult to concentrate that they are unable to follow a television program or read a newspaper (Jamison 1993). A consumer in this state is hesitant in decision-making, risk averse, and doubtful about his/her ability to construct an appropriate choice set.

Novel consumption problems or opportunities are likely to be beyond the response capacity of consumers in this state, and they may postpone decision making and information gathering for all but the most essential tasks. Depressed individuals are likely to rely on routinized, easily-recalled scripts for consumption, even if better options that require more cognitive effort are available. When confronted with the necessity of making an unfamiliar choice, they may be paralyzed by indecision or choose the course of least resistance.

Patty Duke, an actress who publicly acknowledged her manic-depression, provides an autobiographical account below:

I really would sleep, and I’d wake up after four or five hours, go to the bathroom, and go right back to bed until ten o’clock at night. I lived on deli food. I couldn’t have gotten it together to go out and shop. I didn’t make any decisions. I made sure that I eliminated any possibility of having to make a decision. Even the silliest thingsCwhat to eatCyou just can’t decide, and it’s not like those days where you just don’t know what you want. You really can’t decide (Duke and Hochman, 1992, pp. 16-17).

Let us now turn to an examination of the effects of mania and depression on consumption behavior.


Table 2, column 4 summarizes consumption-related behavior in states ranging from mania to depression. At the high end of the continuum, clinical mania is evidenced by acts such as the violent destruction of property and/or rash overspending. Destructive manic behavior most often occurs during what are termed "mixed affective states", in which energy levels are very high, but emotion is negative. Both Jamison (1995) and Duke and Hochman (1992) provide autobiographical accounts of destructive consumer behavior during acute epiodes of mania. Duke broke dishes and glasses, slashed kitchen cabinets with a butcher knife, threw wine bottles and lamps at family members, and smashed television sets. Jamison ripped telephones and light fixtures from the walls, cut up clothing with knives and scissors, and shattered pictures and mirrors. Other manic consumers have used their hands to break windows and furniture, tear doors off hinges, and punch holes in the walls of their houses. These destructive acts may occur in conjunction with wild buying sprees, when enormous amounts of merchandise are purchased for no logical reason.

At the opposite end, clinical depression is manifested by consumption at a bare subsistence level. Consumers experiencing severe depression may sleep for many hours a day, close the curtains to avoid sunlight, wear the same clothes for days or weeks, fail to bathe or groom themselves, and follow strange, poor, or severely restricted diets. They often become unable to perform basic life tasks such as buying food, keeping themselves clean, or getting dressed and leaving the house.

Between these clinical extremes lie a wide range of consumption behaviors. Table 2 summarizes the clinical symptoms and phenomenological data that suggest seven areas of consumption activity influenced by hypomania and mild to moderate depression. Let us first turn to the consumption effects of hypomania.

Hypomanic Consumption

1: High Product Involvement. When hypomanic consumers focus on a product area, they are likely to do so in a compulsive and frenetic way, immersing themselves in the product and all things connected to it. These "bursts of involvement" may last from several days to a few years, but typically are not long-lived. As soon as the hypomanic consumer has soaked-up enough stimulation from the project, s/he will move on to something else. Oftentimes, tasks that were begun with great enthusiasm and financial investment will languish when attention wanes.

2: Gift Giving and Altruism. Another typical hypomanic consumption activity is an upsurge of goodwill toward friends, family, or even strangers that gives rise to the purchase of extravagant gifts (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). Duke (Duke and Hochman 1992) reported one instance in which she was performing in a play in Chicago. She rented a large suite at the Holiday Inn for herself and her three dogs and then opened it up "like a hospitality room" for total strangers. Her stay there became a continuous party with "people I never saw before in my life, never saw since" (p. 24). Hershman and Lieb (1988) report the case of a hypomanic financier who celebrated Christmas one year by distributing $100 bills to New York’s Bowery dwellers. Similarly, one of the authors becomes enthusiastic about particular books and purchases multiple copies to give to friends and colleagues.

One of the more interesting aspects of hypomanic generosity is that it is usually undertaken with no expectation of reciprocity. That is, givers anticipate nothing in return, for their motivation is the sheer pleasure of giving things to others. For this reason, hypomanic gift-giving tends to be sporadic and spontaneous, in contrast to planned shopping for specific occasions or events such as birthdays.

3: Ostentatious and Narcissistic Spending. A common extension of the hypomanic’s tendency to give gifts to others is his/her tendency to buy self-gifts. Hypomanic consumers may have inflated views of themselves as uniquely gifted or talented, and, therefore, worthy of extravagant expenditures (see Goodwin and Jamison 1990). The L’Oreal advertsing theme "Because I’m worth it" aptly describes the hypomanic consumer’s self-image. Such consumers believe that they are indeed worth a first class airline ticket, a weekend in the Bahamas, a Rolex watch, an Armani suit, a bottle of Giorgio perfume. When they feel elevated and special, they will buy items for themselves that express these good feelings.

In sharp contrast to depressed consumers who tend to neglect their grooming and appearance and may appear drab or slovenly, hypomanic consumers are "aglow with good health and attractiveness" (Hershman and Lieb 1988, p. 23). They spend time making sure that their hairstyles, grooming, and apparel are fashionable and becoming (Goodwin and Jamison 1990), often engaging in narcissistic consumption. One consequence of their excessive spending during periods of hypomania is often increased debt and the threat (sometimes the reality) of bankruptcy.

Kay Jamison (1995) describes the results of one of her spending sprees:

There were piles of credit card receipts, stacks of pink overdraft notices from my bank, and duplicate and triplicate billings from all of the stores through which I had so recently swirled and charged. In a separate, more ominous pile were threatening letters from collection agencies. The chaotic visual impact upon entering the room reflected the higgledy piggledy, pixilated collection of electric lobes that only a few weeks earlier had constituted my manic brain. Now, medicated and dreary, I was obsessively sifting through the remnants of my fiscal irresponsibility. There was a bill from a taxidermist in Virginia, for example, for a stuffed fox that I for some reason had desperately needed. I had loved animals all of my life. How on earth could I have bought a dead animal?.... I was appalled by the grisly nature of my purchase, disgusted with myself, and incapable of imagining what I would do with the fox once it actually arrived (1995, p. 75).

This description of uncontrolled spending suggests there is likely a correlation between financially overextended consumers who buy compulsively (Faber and O’Guinn 1989) and hypomania.

4: Sociability and Opinion Leadership. When these consumers are in the "up" phase of their emotional cycle, they are often sociable and gregarious people-seekers. They feel vivacious and attractive, and they find themselves driven to be with others. However, when in such a hypomanic state, they often lack the social judgment to see themselves as others do. For example, Jamison (1995, p. 70-71) recalled attending a garden party at UCLA early in her academic career:

The chancellor’s garden party was given annually to welcome new faculty members to UCLA. By coincidence the man who was to become my psychiatrist also happened to be attending the garden party. My recollection of the situation was that I was perhaps a bit high, but primarily I remember talking to scads of people, feeling that I was irresistibly charming, and zipping around from hors d’oeuvre to hors d’oeuvre and drink to drink.... My memories of the garden party were that I had a fabulous, bubbly, seductive, assured time. My psychiatrist, however, in talking with me about it much later, recollected it very differently. I was, he said, dressed in a remarkably provocative way, totally unlike the conservative manner in which he had seen me ressed over the preceding year. I had on much more makeup than usual and seemed, to him, to be frenetic and far too talkative. He says he remembers having thought to himself, Kay looks manic. I, on the other hand, had thought I was splendid.

Despite Jamison’s misconstrual of her behavior in this instance, the heightened articulateness of hypomanics and their ability to make impassioned arguments on behalf of particular products or ideas often positions them as opinion leaders. Consumers who experience the synergy between creative thought patterns and high product involvement tend to come across as knowledgeable and self-confident, able to persuade others to accept their point of view. It is no coincidence that in academia, persuasive advocates of one or another theory often display hypomanic fervor.

5: Innovativeness, Novelty Seeking, and Variety Seeking. In addition to opinion leadership, hypomanic consumers also frequently manifest the related trait of innovativeness. Hirschman’s (1996) Association for Consumer Research Fellow’s address describes her three primary emotional states as "really happy, really sad, or bored." Boredom, restlessness, and dissatisfaction with the status quo are driving forces that motivate consumers to seek novelty. In this regard, we suggest that three factors imply a high correlation between hypomania and innovativeness. The first is that the personality traits ascribed by researchers to innovatorsCventuresomeness, independence, intelligence, creativity, risk-taking, optimism, and self-confidence (Rogers and Shoemaker 1970)Care identical to those ascribed to hypomanic consumers. As Hershman and Lieb (1948, p. 15) point out, the hypomanic individual is "well endowed with both self-confidence and optimism, is blind to difficulties or... sees them as a challenge."

The second is that such individuals are self-willed and independent, quick to react, and prone to make connections between ideas that others miss. The third and most important is that they "yearn for variety and love change. They are in the vanguard of many new movements Cthe first to join and the first to leave. Their restlessness and quick satiation with situations or projects may cause them to pursue novelty" (Hershman and Lieb 1948, p. 24).

6: Consumer Creativity. In addition to the active pursuit of novelty, hypomanics consumers are also creative. Even a partial list of creative persons now considered to have manifested hypomanic symptoms includes some of the most original artists (Gauguin, Picasso, Michelangelo), writers (Dickens, Hemingway, Fitzgerald), musicians (Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart) and scientists (Freud, Newton, Edison). It is likely that even ordinary consumers who become hypomanic will exhibit heightened levels of consumer creativity, i.e., the use of products in novel ways to solve problems (see Hirschman 1981).

7: Hedonic and Aesthetic Consumption. Because hypomanic consumers are very aware of sensory stimuli, it is probable that they are often highly involved in pleasure-giving activities, especially aesthetic ones. Jamison (1995), for instance, greatly enjoys symphonic music and once organized a concert featuring music by manic-depressive composers, e.g., Mozart, Beethoven. Indeed, music is an area of aesthetic consumption profoundly influenced by emotional states. However, perhaps because music as a stimulus provokes so intense a response, hypomanic consumers also are likely to exercise control over their listening. Some fear that hedonic overstimulation may catapult them into a zone of emotional overload (see Jamison 1995).

In sum, we propose that hypomanic consumer behaviors may commonly include high product involvement, generosity and spontaneity in gift-giving, ostentatious and/or narcissistic spending, opinion leadership, innovativeness and novelty-seeking, creativity,and hedonic and/or aesthetic consumption. As we discuss in the concluding section, these collected traits have powerful implications for consumer researchers.

Depressive Consumption

The types of consumption typical of depression stand in stark contrast to those typical of hypomania. Whereas hypomanic consumers often exhibit bold, adventurous, ebullient, and generous behavior, depressed consumers exhibit restricted, uncertain, withdrawn, and self-denying behavior.

1: Hoarding and Stinginess. Consumers who are depressed tend to exhibit hoarding behavior (Kramer 1993). Because they believe that nothing good will happen in the future, they cling to the possessions they now have. These consumers tend to be stingy and ungenerous to othersCthey feel that sharing will only dissipate the few assets that they have accumulated. Even if they have ample funds, during periods of depression they may believe themselves to be impoverished (see Hershman and Lieb 1988).

2: Self-denial and Anhedonia. Self-denial is a control mechanism that depressed consumers frequently use to punish themselves for perceived failings. Further, even when depressed consumers engage in pleasurable experiences (eating an ice cream cone, listening to a favorite song), they are often so anhedonic that they are unable to enjoy themselves.

3: Eating Disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are related to self-denial, and negative body image, at the root of eating disorders, is a characteristic of depression (Goodwin and Jamison 1990). Thus, we propose that the underlying basis of many, perhaps most, eating disorders is the presence of chronic, recurring depression.

4: Poor Grooming and Appearance. The tendency of depressed consumers to feel negative about body image and to engage in self-denying behaviors is often compounded by inattention to grooming and personal care. Mild-to-moderate levels of depression are made manifest by minimal standards of hygiene and grooming, and such consumers usually make little effort to look attractive. In this state, choice of apparel, grooming, and eating become very routinized, and such consumers may find the prospect of change disconcerting (Duke and Hochman 1992).

5: Social isolation. Consumers experiencing depression tend to withdraw from social contact. They may cancel social engagements, cut short vacations, and not engage in consumption activities such as dining out, attending an exercise class, participating in team sports or even venturing into public settings, such as a shopping mall.

6: Routinized Decision Making/Brand Loyalty. We suggest that consumers who are mildly to moderately depressed may be brand loyal, because they have insufficient energy to engage in anything other than routinized decision making. The depressed affective state induces inertia, encouraging these consumers to become entrenched in well-worn, familiar, and effortless consumption routines. When reduced cognitive ability and low self-confidence combine with diminished energy, the path of least resistance is to follow established consumption routines. Insofar as depressed consumers are likely to feel unable to solve problems and want to avoid risk-taking, they do not feel inclined to try new things. In this state, non-effortful shopping behavior is the easiest way to deal with life’s necessities, and familiar brands require no thought.

7: Substance Abuse. Extreme sensitivity to other people and the environment can trap depressed consumers in feelings of anxiety and self-doubt that create a strong drive towrd substance abuse. Substances that can lighten depression even temporarily are attractive to those in the grip of bleak moods that feel permanent. The substances used as chemical escapes may be legal (tobacco or coffee) or illegal (contraband drugs). However, historically, the folk remedy of choice has been alcohol, the only widely-accessible relief before the modern arsenal of drugs became available to persons with depression (Hershman and Lieb 1988). For many contemporary depressives, it still is the most commonly abused substance (Goodwin and Jamison 1990; Hershman and Lieb 1988)Cthe correlation between manic-depression/recurrent depression and alcoholism is 60% (Goodwin and Jamison 1990).

Thus, within the consumer population exhibiting affective disorders, emotional cycles may trigger both cognitive and behavioral consequences. We suggest that in this group, the cyclical recurrence of manic and depressive states appears to be a framework linking consumption phenomena previously thought to be unrelated.


With very few exceptions (e.g., O’Guinn and Faber 1989), consumer researchers have not accessed the burgeoning psychiatric literature for findings and theories relevant to consumption. Our present purpose has been to examine the existing knowledge concerning a very large group of consumers who exhibit emotional, cognitive and behavioral characteristics well-known to psychiatry but largely 'invisible’ as a pattern to consumer researchers. We proposedCand provided supportive clinical documentationCthat consumer behavior phenomena such as information processing speed and flexibility, decision making patterns, product involvement, brand loyalty, compulsive consumption and opinion leadership and innovativeness are all likely linked to the affective states of mania and depression.

For consumers whose lives are marked by cycling into and out of mania and depression, the collection of phenomena we describe may be comprehended and predicted. Further, it is also quite possible that when normal consumers experience life events which cause them to cycle into manic/hypomanic or depressive states, that they, too, will exhibit the emotional, cognitive and behavioral patterns we have described. If correct, this manic-depressive framework could serve as a potentially unifying structure connecting many diverse consumption phenomena formerly seen as unrelated.

Obviously, an enormous amount of empirical work lies ahead to determine if these proposals are tenable. We suggest that a good place to begin would be with depth interviews conducted with consumers who have been diagnosed with recurrent depression, manic-depression or cyclothymia to acquire a deeper understanding of how these conditions are expressed in a consumer behavior context. Comparative interviews could simultaneously be conducted with persons having no personal (or family) history of these affective disorders. In particular, it would be of interest to learn if "normal" consumers behave similarly to consumers with affective disorders when they, themselves, are experiencing beyond-the-norm emotional states, due to external events.

We hope that other researchers will find these questions tantalizing and join us in investigating them.


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Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Rutgers University
Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25 | 1998

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