Physical and psychological pain of paying
Zellermayer’s pain of paying referenced the emotional distress experienced by consumers when spending money, which would be pain in the psychological sense.7 Subsequent research based on Zellermayer’s concept have considered neurological bases and their utility for controlling spending habits. Eugene Chan, an associate professor at Purdue University, however, wanted to assess the physical aspect of the pain of paying.
Around 20% of Americans experience chronic pain, which can understandably influence decision making.7 Individuals in physical pain still need to engage in consumption, so Chan wanted to know if their purchasing decisions would be similar or dissimilar to those not in physical pain. Experiencing physical pain demands attention and takes up cognitive resources, as does processing and assessing negative emotions like the pain of paying. Thus, on the basis of an attentional mechanism, Chan hypothesized that those in physical pain would experience less pain of paying relative to consumers not in physical pain.
Chan conducted a series of studies and the findings confirmed that consumers in physical pain felt less pain of paying than those who were not in physical pain.7 These findings were consistent across participants who self-reported their experiences of pain and consumption habits, as well as those who underwent experimental manipulations of pain through exposure to cold water. Additionally, it was found that the intensity of the physical injury – not the negative emotions – decreased the pain of paying, teasing apart the effects of physical and psychological pain. Whether people were distracted from their physical pain affected the magnitude of differences between those who were and were not in physical pain, providing evidence for the attention-based mechanisms originally proposed.
Chan’s findings have important implications for how the pain of paying is understood. Commonly referred to as a strategy that keeps spending in check,4 the benefits of the pain of paying may not apply equally to all consumers. Those in physical pain might be more likely to spend money, which could negatively impact their financial well-being in the long run.7 Additionally, since consumers typically experience less psychological pain when they buy discounted products, there would be no difference in purchasing intentions between those who are or are not in physical pain. Even though discounts are effective in increasing overall sales, they may have a negligible impact on consumers in physical pain.
Overall, Chan’s studies highlight important directions for future research to address, such as investigating the differences between acute and chronic physical pain, as well as spending regulation strategies for those in physical pain. Effective marketing strategies would do well to consider such differences and develop interventions to target the decreased pain of paying experienced by those in physical pain.
Treatment of compulsive buying
For some people, shopping is more than a necessity or a treat: it is an uncontrollable urge.8 Compulsive buyers feel their anxiety temporarily lifted when they make a purchase, but that anxiety begins again once their shopping trip is over. This can be a dangerous cycle, both in terms of financial well-being and coping with anxiety. While there is a good deal of research on compulsive buying, researchers from Penn State University noticed that little research focused on the social anxiety, loneliness, and lack of social support compulsive buyers experience.
The researchers aimed to study if the aforementioned social factors and spending behaviors such as the pain of paying could predict compulsive buying.8 Although compulsive buying is not classified in the DSM-5, it is considered a psychopathological disorder which leads to uncontrollable urges to shop: in these cases, high levels of negative emotions can only be addressed by making purchases. In terms of the pain of paying, compulsive buyers tend to report less money and more credit card debt relative to non-compulsive buyers. Compulsive buyers also experience less pain of paying, so the researchers hypothesized that low pain of paying could predict compulsive buying in such individuals.
The researchers’ findings confirmed that compulsive buyers experienced less pain of paying, and thus more trouble controlling their purchases.8 This could be due partially to compulsive buyers using credit cards more often, possessing higher quantities of physical cards, and incurring more debt. This way, their loss of money is less salient, making their payments less painful.
These findings explore the pain of paying in a special population group and therefore have implications for interventions. Treatment programs for compulsive buyers – who typically shop to address their anxiety – should focus on training good money management skills, such as paying with cash and reducing the quantity of available credit cards. Such strategies could help compulsive buyers control their shopping urges, which would be the first step in practicing healthier anxiety management strategies.