Spent: New research explores why sadness makes us splurge

  • Spent Money Sadness

    image by Jesse Kuhn

  • Spent Money Sadness

One day last spring, Harvard University psychologist Jennifer Lerner found out that a student of hers had suffered a relapse of a severe form of cancer. As she was walking home at the end of the day, she felt overcome by a wave of sadness.

But just beneath that sadness was another feeling, an urge that crept up on her as she was thinking about her student.

“I wanted to stop off at stores and buy things for my house,” she says. “It was so bizarre, but it was very hard to overcome—the urge to go shopping right then and there.”

The urge may have seemed odd, but it’s not uncommon. In fact, recent research has uncovered a strong connection between feelings of sadness and willingness to spend money on stuff—more money, in fact, than people would pay for the same stuff if they weren’t sad.

In a study published in June 2008 in Psychological Science, Lerner and her colleagues gave participants $10 and showed some of them a sad movie clip—a scene from the 1979 Ricky Schroder–Jon Voight tearjerker The Champ. The researchers asked those participants to describe how they’d feel if they found themselves in a situation like the one depicted. The rest of the participants watched a video about the Great Barrier Reef and wrote about their daily activities. Then all the participants were given the chance to buy a “sporty” water bottle.

The group that watched The Champ was willing to spend roughly four times as much for the bottle, $2.11 as opposed to 56 cents.

W. Rimes_3
6/29/2010 3:02:26 AM

Dahl is way off base. Generosity happens to be one of my weaknesses and many people have received loans, gifts, etc. that I could hardly afford. When I lend money I do it knowing that if I never see it again that I will consider it a gift and not hold it against the receiver. Dahl does not understand Bi Polar nor does anyone that I have ever met. It is a very serious condition and I personally know little about it other than the doctors say that seratonin is not being produced and when you sleep 24/7 you need an antidepressant. That did not work for me nor do sleeping pills help. I have now been awake for over three days and nights and am very energetic with bags under my eyes.

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