Spent Resources: Self-Regulatory Resource Availability Affects Impulse Buying

Authors: Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota; Ronald J. Faber, University of Minnesota

Publication: Journal of Consumer Research

Year: 2007

Focus Area: Persuasion, Prevention, Decision Making

Relevance: If victimization by fraud is seen as a type of impulse purchase, people who tend to make impulse purchases may be uniquely vulnerable to scams. The concept of self-control as a limited resource can also inform profiling and prevention efforts.

Summary: This paper presents a theory of impulse buying in which people have a renewable, but limited, resource of self control. If they use up some of that self control in one situation, they have less self control available in the next situation. It takes time to replenish one’s reserves of self-control.

  • People who were asked to control their attention – a test of self-control – in the first part of an experiment were willing to pay more for a product in the second part of the experiment.
  • People who already have a tendency to make impulse purchases were especially vulnerable to reductions in their self-control.
  • The researchers tested whether people were more likely to buy products that appealed to their emotions, like junk food, or to their rational minds, like healthy foods. Participants didn’t prefer one type of product over the other, which was unexpected.

Author Abstract: This research investigated impulse buying as resulting from the depletion of a common—but limited—resource that governs self-control. In three investigations, participants’ self-regulatory resources were depleted or not; later, impulsive spending responses were measured. Participants whose resources were depleted, relative to participants whose resources were not depleted, felt stronger urges to buy, were willing to spend more, and actually did spend more money in unanticipated buying situations. Participants having depleted resources reported being influenced equally by affective and cognitive factors and purchased products that were high on each factor at equal rates. Hence, self-regulatory resource availability predicts whether people can resist impulse buying temptations.

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