If your answer to feeling blue is to go shopping, you might have a problem — and not just of the hoarder variety. A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that it’s better to shop when you’re in a good mood because you make more consistent, wiser choices. So while retail therapy might be soothing, bummed-out trips to the mall also might explain all those strange outfits in your closet.
Study authors Paul Herr and Derick Davis of Virginia Tech, Christine Page of Skidmore College and Bruce Pfeiffer of the University of New Hampshire conducted the research to focus on one of the most basic interactions in decision making: how one’s mood affects the appearance and assessment of objects. For example, a puppy might be the most adorable thing on Earth when you’re happy, but when you’re annoyed you might see the little guy as nothing more than a yapping poop machine.
“There has been considerable debate about how affect (moods, emotions, feelings) influences the quality of people’s decisions,” they wrote in the paper. “We join this debate by looking at affect’s influence on a very basic element of decision-making: deciding if an object is liked or disliked.”
The study itself was pretty straightforward. The research showed test subjects pictures of positive things, like said puppy, or negative things, like diseased feet (yes, really), to manipulate the subjects’ moods one way or the other. After, the subjects were shown pictures of everyday objects and told to pick positive or negative adjectives from a list to describe those objects.
People in a positive mood were both faster at picking adjectives, whether they were positive or negative, and more consistent, meaning that when shown the same object they were less likely to change their previous positive or negative assessment of it. There wasn’t a metric for whether the answers were right or not, because none of them are clearly correct. Everyone perceives things differently, so while we might find a vacuum as a positive thing, someone else mind it abhorrent. Plus, it’s the same situation when you’re out shopping anyway.
What the study does show is that people who are in a good mood make more consistent decisions based on their own opinions. In terms of retail, this could be huge. Rather than having a store pumping house music with abrasive models for employees, a place that makes customers feel happy might end up with people making more purchases they actually want and fewer returns.