Many individuals find themselves shopping compulsively as a method for coping with stressful situations, but the behavior itself causes more stress. “These negative consequences are not only economic in character (debt and financial problems) but also psychological and societal,” said Gerhard Raab of the Transatlantik-Institut at Ludwigshafen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. “Researchers generally agree that compulsive buying can take on a pathological character, such as excessive gambling, and therefore requires therapeutic treatment.” However, the mental health profession does not recognize this behavior as a specific issue unto itself. “To date, there is no category for compulsive buying behaviour in either the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA 2000), or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) of the World Health Organization,” added Raab. People who struggle with compulsive shopping often suffer with other psychological problems as well. Raab said, “Affected persons exhibit increased impulsiveness, deficits in impulse control (self-control), low self-esteem, depression, social anxiety, money management difficulties, disruption of autonomy orientation, and a greater materialistic orientation.” Additionally, recent studies have indicated that compulsive shoppers may experience different levels of brain activity than non-shoppers.
Raab and a team of researchers looked at 49 women, half of whom were compulsive shoppers. The women underwent brain imaging scans while participating in a purchasing versus savings experiment. They found that the compulsive shoppers had higher brain activity in the nucleus accumbens than the non-shoppers. They also noticed that these same women had less activation of the insula region. “The results are consistent with other neurological studies of buying behavior,” said Raab. “Higher activity in the nucleus accumbens is related to positive arousal, the preference of a product, the wanting of a product and the purchasing probability. Insular activity on the other hand was found to be associated with negative arousal and related to the purchasing probability.” Although these results are limited, Raab believes they are positive. He said, “This could lead to more willingness to support research in this field and to provide resources necessary for consumer information and preventive actions.”
Raab, Gerhard, Christian E. Elger, Michael Neuner, and Bernd Weber. “A Neurological Study of Compulsive Buying Behaviour.” Journal of Consumer Policy 34 (2011): 401-13. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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