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Why Misery Isn't Miserly

Watch your wallet if you're feeling sad and have the world on your shoulders.

"Misery is not miserly: Sad and self-focused individuals spend more." That's the title of a new study on why the blues can be a budget-buster.

Why do people spend more when they're sad and focused on themselves? The researchers' theory boils down to retail therapy.

"Our working model proposes that sad and self-focused individuals spend more on commodities because they seek self-enhancement," write the researchers, who included Carnegie Mellon University's Cynthia Cryder, PhD, and colleagues.

Sad Spending

Cryder's team studied 13 women and 20 men aged 18-30.

First, participants got $10 for their study participation. Then they watched a video clip.

Some saw a sad video clip from the film The Champ, in which a boy's father dies. Others watched an unemotional National Geographic video about Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Next, participants got a writing assignment. Those who watched the sad video wrote an essay about how they would react if they were in a situation like the one shown in the video clip.

The people who watched the Great Barrier Reef video wrote an essay about their daily activities.

The researchers counted the number of times that people wrote "I," "me," and "myself" in their essays and used that to measure participants' degree of self-focus.

Finally, participants were invited to bid up to $10 from their study payment to get a water bottle.

Costly Emotions

People in the sad video group paid more than those in the nature video group for the water bottle.

The average bid for the water bottle was $2.11 in the sad video group, compared with $0.56 in the Great Barrier Reef video group.

It's not just about feeling sad. It's the mix of sadness and self-focus that tends to loosen the purse strings, according to the study.

The results will be presented tomorrow in Albuquerque, N.M., at the 9th annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and in the June 2008 edition of Psychological Science.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2008 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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