Can worshipping celebrities be a predictor of impulse shopping? A study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that it could be, but the relationship appears to be mediated by empathy.
Celebrities are influential figures and marketing often utilizes them to add value to products. An endorsement from a celebrity that consumers deem attractive or trustworthy can go a long way in making sales. Part of why this marketing strategy is successful is due to many people idolizing their favorite celebrities. Celebrity worship can be either pathological or non-pathological, with the former being compulsive. Researchers hypothesized that celebrity worship would be associated with higher impulsive buying intent.
People with borderline pathological celebrity worship agree with statements such as “I would gladly die in order to save the life of my favorite celebrity.”
Study author Outong Chen and colleagues utilized 1,319 participants who ranged in age from 16 to 30. Participants were recruited from a college in October 2021. Participants completed measures on celebrity attitudes, impulsive buying intent, and interpersonal reactivity (which is used to measure empathy). Participants completed questionnaires in a random order. Chen and colleagues predicted that empathy may act as a mediator and gender may act as a moderator for the relationship between celebrity worship and impulsive buying intent.
Results showed that borderline pathological celebrity worship did positively predict impulsive buying behavior and that this relationship was mediated by empathy and moderated by gender, as researchers had predicted. Higher levels of celebrity worship were associated with higher levels of empathy, which led to greater impulsive buying intent. This relationship was found to be stronger among male participants than among female participants.
Impulsive buying intent was stronger among women at lower levels of celebrity worship, but there were no significant gender differences at borderline pathological levels of celebrity worship. Previous research has found that decision-making is more impulsive when made for close family or friends, suggesting that empathy is related to impulse in decision-making. This finding is consistent with that.
“The present results contribute to previous findings by focusing on a specific level of celebrity worship, borderline pathological level, and revealing that borderline pathological celebrity worship may provoke impulsive buying intent,” the researchers said. “This impulsive buying intent could affect daily consumer behavior extensively, rather than leading them to focus on some specific merchandise connected to specific celebrities.”
But the study has some limitations. One such limitation is that it relied entirely on self-report questionnaires, which can be vulnerable to bias and lying. Additionally, the sample was constrained to one group of young adults; future research could include a more diverse sample to see if these effects are seen more broadly.
“The present discussion leaves an open question regarding the mechanism underlying the relationship between empathy and impulsive buying intent. We only attempted to surmise a possibility based on previous findings; however, this needs further clarification based on empirical research,” the researchers said.
The study, “Borderline Pathological Celebrity Worship and Impulsive Buying Intent: Mediating and Moderating Roles of Empathy and Gender“, was authored by Outong Chen, Xiaojing Zhao, Dongxing Ding, Yifan Zhang, Hongbo Zhou, and Ranran Liu.