Top

How to Make the Most of “Retail Therapy”

Someone who has momentarily lost con-fidence in her intelligence may be more likely to purchase a pen than a candy bar, suggests a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Why? The pen may help restore her belief in herself as an -intelligent person.

To illustrate this point, the authors of the study looked at how subtle manipulations, such as having a person write with her nondominant hand, can measurably reduce self-confidence and how this momentary “shaken self” can be restored by choosing a product that renews her self-view. For example, in one of the studies the researchers asked participants to write about health-conscious behaviors with their dominant or nondominant hands. Then, some of the participants wrote essays about the most important value in their lives (an activity designed to restore confidence). All the participants then assessed their moods and self-esteem prior to their being given a choice between a healthy snack (an apple) and an unhealthy snack (a candy bar). Participants whose confidence had been shaken by using their weak hand and who did not write the self-affirming essay were significantly more likely to choose the healthy snack — to restore their health-conscious confidence.

The person’s motivation for choosing the apple versus the candy bar may have been unconscious, but this study and others show that momentarily lowered self-confidence can be consciously bolstered by purchasing products that restore the specific shaken self-dimension. Clever marketers understand and use this sort of information. Consumers should, too. (Journal of Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, June 2009)