Materialism, Spending, and Affect: An Event-Sampling Study of Marketplace Behavior and Its Affective Costs

Abstract

Research on materialism has burgeoned in the last two decades, yet little is known about how people higher versus lower in this consumer values orientation differ in their day-to-day spending habits and in their emotional reactions to spending on purchases. The present study used an event-sampling method over a 3-week period to address these questions in a community adult sample. Results showed that over the course of the sampling period, high materialists made more discretionary purchases and spent more money on necessity purchases than did those lower in materialism, even though their incomes did not differ. Despite higher levels of spending, high materialists experienced a “letdown” after spending, as they reported more post-purchase unpleasant affect than did low materialists. This result was not moderated by level of dispositional unpleasant affect, purchase type, or purchase amounts.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The criterion that individuals be working in the daytime helped to ensure that there was homogeneity in diurnal activity patterns across participants.

  2. 2.

    In these and all of the following analyses involving income, similarly significant results were found using natural log-transformed personal and household income. Analyses were also conducted using household income weighted by number of persons in the household; this variable was generally more weakly related to the dependent variables of interest than were the other income variables noted here.

  3. 3.

    The fit of a cosine function was also examined, but a sine function provided a better (though still non-significant) fit. We tested for septurnal, or 7-day weekly cyclicity because a number of social and personality phenomena have been found to follow a weekly cycle (e.g., Brown 2000; Brown and Moskowitz 1998; Larsen and Kasimatis 1991; Reis et al. 2000). In the realm of spending, we expected that full-time working people would tend to have more spending occasions in the time period leading up to and during the weekend than during the majority of the work week. Cyclicity is most commonly tested using either a dummy variable approach or the trigonometric approach used here (Bowerman and O’Connell 1993). Because we were not interested in specific day-of-week effects, we chose the latter approach, which allows for fewer terms in model equations.

  4. 4.

    A continuous time variable was created, in which the day and time that each record form was completed is used to create a continuous time variable which starts at day 1, record 1, and runs linearly upward to day n, record n. For each sampling record, the number of minutes after the pager signal that the form was completed was subtracted from the actual time of record completion to derive the actual time to which each record's data refers. Schwartz and Stone (1998) discuss the incorporation of time into SAS PROC MIXED to test for autocorrelation.

  5. 5.

    We also examined the possible moderating role of frequency of spending over the 3-week period on the relation between materialism and post-spending unpleasant affect. Using data aggregated over the event-sampling phase of the study, multiple regression analyses on necessity and discretionary spending separately found that frequency of spending did not moderate the effect of materialism (or show a main effect) on spending-related unpleasant affect.

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Correspondence to Kirk Warren Brown.

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Brown, K.W., Kasser, T., Ryan, R.M. et al. Materialism, Spending, and Affect: An Event-Sampling Study of Marketplace Behavior and Its Affective Costs. J Happiness Stud 17, 2277–2292 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-015-9694-9

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Keywords

  • Materialism
  • Consumer behavior
  • Behavioral economics
  • Well-being
  • Emotional states