When convention attendees head to the airport at the end of the week, they’ll likely feel a little sad to leave Hawaii’s tropical paradise. They might go to the gift shop and buy something — say, an unhealthy snack or an overpriced knick-knack — that they really don’t want. They might think their feelings and their actions are unrelated. They’d be wrong.
“Sadness increases buying prices and decreases selling prices,” said Ye Li, PhD, of the University of California-Riverside during a session Thursday on emotion and consumer decision-making. “It also increases preference for high-risk reward options.” In other words, when you’re bummed out, you think cheap things are worth more and you’re willing to risk more to get them. You reach for your wallet to fill an emotional void with a material thing, he said.
Li was joined by psychologists Morgan Poor, PhD, of the University of San Diego, who researches incidental emotions’ consequences on consumer preferences, and Johnny Chen, PhD, MBA, of the University of Southern Maine, who studies moral emotions’ role in consumer boycotts.
Li has found that sadness also makes you more impatient. While people generally would rather receive a smaller reward now than a larger reward later, this phenomenon is amplified among sad people. “Sadness increases your desire to get things now, not just sooner,” he said. The same is not true for people with other negative emotions, such as anger. “These effects are very unique to sadness,” he said.
Li’s research is important because many major financial decisions are made after events that make people sad such as a death, job loss, divorce or theft. It also has policy implications: Maybe more major sales should come with a “cooling off” period during which consumers can change their minds, he said.
His work can also inform personal decisions. Check yourself, for example, if you feel compelled to give to a charity because its ad of a sad puppy is tugging at your heart. And before you make any big financial decision? Sleep on it. “Try to overcome the influences of very transient emotions,” Li said.