Tuesday, November 6, 2018

All I want for Christmas is more emotional stability

Photo via Good Free Photos
It’s that time of year again, when the approach of Christmas becomes undeniable. Stores transform themselves to remind us, and advertising everywhere instils a sense of urgency about gift shopping.

Not everyone responds to this in the same way. Are you the kind of person who starts haemorrhaging money in the run-up to Christmas? Do you have interesting new ideas when you’re thinking of gifts for others, or do you purchase whatever’s popular? What drives individual differences in holiday spending patterns?

This last question has received little attention in psychological literature and is at the core of new research from Sara J. Weston and colleagues at Northwestern University and Joe Gladstone at University College London, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Their focus is on associations between the Big Five personality traits (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) and Christmas spending.

Christmas shopping, the authors note, has several features that distinguish it from other consumer activities, and increase the possibility that some personality traits might be associated with more spending. Do you make lists of family members and friends months beforehand, and carefully think of presents in advance? The authors suggest that Christmas shopping favours those who like to make a plan and stick to it, which may require higher levels of conscientiousness. The researchers also expected people with bigger social networks to show a substantial increase in spending at Christmas relative to their own spending and that of others, and therefore predicted that extroversion would be of particular interest in their analysis.

Over 2000 participants using a money management app in the United Kingdom completed a survey and allowed researchers access to transaction information. A baseline spending pattern was established for each participant from months before the holiday season, so that spending after November 1 could be distinguished as Christmas spending. Income, age and gender were controlled for, and a short, 10-item personality measure was used.

After researchers controlled for these demographic variables, only two of the Big Five characteristics were meaningfully associated with high Christmas spending – not high levels of extroversion, as they had expected, but low levels of neuroticism and openness to experience. The authors speculate that those who are more open to experience are less likely to follow social rules, making them less inclined to give gifts, and those who are more relaxed are ‘untethered’ in their spending.

Some limitations of the study include a lack of nuance in the measures used: spending was not broken down sufficiently to allow a detailed understanding of what was really gift-related Christmas shopping. Consider, for example, that November and December are colder months, and there may be any number of additional influences on spending at this time of year. How personality interacts with any of these influences could be of interest, so more differentiated information about spending would be useful in future research. Similarly, the short measure of personality used only contained two items per trait, and traits had mixed levels of reliability.

While it is clear that more detailed information is needed to make firm conclusions, in the meantime, it is might be helpful for those who feel that they lack imagination to talk more to their anxious and more creative friends if they’re at all concerned about spending too much – and retailers now have an evidence-based inkling of what personality types are most likely to open their wallets. Perhaps it's not surprising that in the busy months it's the calm folk who go out spending?

For the SPSP press release, click here.
For the original article, click here.

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