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Acta Psychol (Amst). 1996 Sep;93(1-3):187-206.

Objects, decision considerations and self-image in men's and women's impulse purchases.

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  • 1Sociology and Social Psychology Subject Group, School of Social Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.


Current theories in economics, marketing, and psychology fail to explain underlying reasons for impulse buying and, crucially, why certain goods (e.g., clothes) are bought impulsively more than others (e.g., basic kitchen equipment). We propose and examine a social psychological model, which predicts that people impulse buy to acquire material symbols of personal and social identity. We predict that consumers will differ systematically in the goods they buy on impulse, and in their reasons for doing so, depending on their attitudes towards shopping, and also along important social categories, such as gender. Specifically, our theoretical model-drawing on a social constructionist model of material possessions (e.g., Dittmar, 1992) and symbolic self-completion theory (e.g. Wicklund and Gollwitzer, 1982)-leads to three sets of hypotheses: (i) some consumer durables are more likely to be bought on impulse than others, and there may be gender differences in object choices, (ii) differences will emerge in the buying considerations (e.g., functional, emotional, symbolic) that are used for impulse and planned buying, and (iii) magnitude of self-discrepancies will predict relative impulse buying frequency and the buying considerations used, if the individual uses consumption as a self-completion strategy. These predictions were expected to hold particularly strongly for individuals high in compulsive shopping tendencies. We test our model in a questionnaire study with a sample of British consumers (n = 61). The results lend support to all three sets of hypotheses. The implications of these findings are discussed with respect to economic and consumer theory, and the treatment offered to the increasing number of 'addicted' shoppers.

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