A new study published in Mindfulness has found that practicing self-compassion can ultimately decrease impulse buying tendencies, through reducing materialistic views and increasing self-control.
Three in four Americans have reported experiencing a sudden and powerful urge to purchase something immediately, a phenomenon known as impulse buying. Not only can it lead to financial difficulties but also feelings of regret, guilt or shame. Surprisingly, only a few studies exist that investigate mechanisms that could intervene in impulse buying.
Yunheng Wang and colleagues, based at Beijing Normal University, initially suggested self-compassion as a potential intervention. Self-compassion refers to adopting a positive attitude toward oneself in the face of failure and viewing the present circumstances in a more balanced manner.
The research team also proposed materialism and self-control as potential factors that influence this relationship between self-compassion and impulse buying.
For materialistic individuals, possessions have significant meaning and are core components of their identity, and thus they are more likely to buy on impulse. Hence the authors proposed that self-compassion may protect self-esteem and satisfy basic psychological needs, and thus reduce impulse buying.
Wang and colleagues also noted that individuals with low self-control are more likely unable to resist the temptation of a purchase, but proposed that self-compassion may increase one’s belief in their capabilities to achieve their goals, consequently increasing self-control, and reducing impulse buying.
To test this complex relationship between self-compassion, materialism, self-control, and impulse buying, the researchers recruited 191 participants via online advertisements into a randomized control trial. In other words, these participants were randomly allocated to either an intervention group (96 participants) or a control group (95 participants). The intervention was a 14-day self-help online course named “Positive Self” where participants engaged with video and audio material that encouraged self-compassion, such as guided meditation.
Self-compassion, materialism, self-control, and impulse buying were measured by the questionnaires: Self-Compassion Scale, Material Tendencies Scale, Multidimensional Self-Control Scale and Impulse Buying Tendency Scale, respectively. These questionnaires were administered one week before the intervention or control, three weeks after the beginning of the intervention or control, and finally one month after the post-test questionnaire.
Data analyses were performed. As anticipated, the study authors discovered that compared to the control group, the intervention group who were trained in self-compassion had demonstrated increased self-compassion and self-control, and decreased materialism and impulse buying tendencies.
Notably, only the improved self-compassion and self-control were maintained one month following the study, but not the reduction in materialism and impulse buying. “The reason for the short-term effects may be that the intervention used in this study was essentially a self-compassion course and did not involve content related to consumption,” Wang and colleagues suggest.
Interestingly, neither materialism nor self-control on its own played a significant role in explaining the relationship between self-compassion and impulse buying, contrary to what was originally hypothesized.
Upon delving deeper, though, a more nuanced relationship between the variables was revealed. Specifically, the association was of a sequential nature – once self-compassion was increased, this reduced materialistic beliefs, allowing for the establishment of self-control, and eventually a decrease in impulse buying tendencies.
The researchers explain this complex relationship, “it is likely that when people become more self-compassionate, there is less need for them to seek their meaning and identity in possessions, so they will be less materialistic… materialistic individuals tend to be dissatisfied with their standard of living, which then leads to self-blame and feelings of inadequacy… to regulate and cope with these aversive emotions, they may exert their self-control resources. With self-control resources exhausted, the ability to control one’s own behavior is weakened and may result in problematic behaviors such as impulse buying.”
Some limitations of the study should be noted. As all measures were self-reported, the expectancy effect may have occurred, which describes how participants expecting a certain result may subconsciously influence their actions to achieve this outcome. Additionally, capitalism is a major influencer upon materialism and the study was conducted in China, where capitalism has only been prominent for a few decades. Hence, the results must be cautiously applied to a Western population.
The study, “The Effect of Self‑Compassion on Impulse Buying: A Randomized Controlled Trial of an Online Self‑Help Intervention”, was authored by Yunheng Wang, Jingyi Zhou, Xiaodan Gu, Xianglong Zeng & Ming Wu.