Buying Luxury Items on Credit May Be Ego Booster

People more likely to use charge cards, pay more when they feel worthless, study finds

THURSDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- When people need a self-esteem boost, they might buy high status items and use a credit card when they make those expensive purchases, according to new research.

In the study, volunteers completed a meaningless computer test, and then some of the participants were told that they did poorly on the test, suggesting they weren't very smart, while others were told they did well on the test.

All of the volunteers were then asked how they might pay for a consumer product they have been considering purchasing. The people whose egos had been hurt were much more likely to say they would use a credit card, the researchers found.

In another experiment, 75 college students were told to think about buying a pair of exclusive, high status designer jeans, while 75 other students were told to think about buying normal, everyday jeans. All of the students were then given the computer test and were told they had done poorly or well.

Students who thought about expensive jeans and were told they did poorly on the computer test reported they were willing to pay 30 percent more for the high status jeans and were over 60 percent more likely to say they would use a credit card to buy the jeans.

Students who thought about everyday jeans and were told they did poorly on the test weren't willing to pay more for the jeans and weren't more likely to use a credit card instead of cash, according to researchers Niro Sivanathan of the London Business School and Nathan Pettit of Cornell University.

The study is scheduled for publication in an upcoming edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

It's normal for people to desire luxury items after their ego is threatened because those items can reassure people of their worth, the study authors noted. And they're more likely to use a credit card because parting with cash can be psychologically painful, the researchers explained in a journal news release.

The studies are part of a psychological examination of how loose lending policies -- high-interest loans aimed at lower-income consumers, for instance -- can have disastrous consequences, the news release said.

More information

Mental Health America outlines how to live life well.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Social Psychological and Personality Science, news release, May 5, 2011

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