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Protecting Self-Image with ‘Retail Therapy’

Protecting Self-Image with Retail TherapyMany people shop to help them cope with stressful situations, but a new study has found that people are much more selective consumers when they anticipate a threat to their self-image.

The study, in the Journal of Consumer Research, quotes former television evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, who famously said: “I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.”

“Consistent with this statement, the present research shows that consumers use products to reactively cope with challenges to their self-image, as well as to proactively protect themselves against potential challenges,” write authors Soo Kim and Derek D. Rucker, Ph.D., both of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

But do consumers shop to cope only after the fact?

No, according to the researchers, who found that people also shop “proactively” when facing potential future challenges to their self-image.

However, they are very selective in choosing only products that are specific to the potentially negative situation, the researchers report.

For example, a student might buy a bottle of “Smart Water” before taking a math test.

A person might splurge on expensive jewelry before attending a high school reunion to guard against the perception that they have not been successful in life. Another might buy a designer suit to wear to an important meeting where their business savvy might be scrutinized.

“Prior to receiving any negative feedback, consumers select products that are specifically associated with bolstering or guarding the part of the self that might come under threat,” the researchers report.

“After receiving negative feedback, consumers seem to increase their consumption more generally as consumption may serve as a means to distract them from the negative feedback.”

Source: Journal of Consumer Research

Protecting Self-Image with ‘Retail Therapy

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Protecting Self-Image with ‘Retail Therapy’. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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