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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and the Holidays

Your shopping personality explained

Do opulent Christmas displays in stores and frenzied ads make you feel overwhelmed, depressed, or psyched? The emotions you feel might be a clue to your “shopping personality” – a pattern of behavior that corresponds with how you act in the rest of your life.

Kent State University behavioral economist Paul Albanese has identified four types of shoppers – normal, neurotic, compulsive and psychotic – based on clinical descriptions of human behavior and personality development in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the psychologist’s bible. In describing these shopping personalities in his 2002 book, The Personality Continuum and Consumer Behavior, Albanese draws on the so-called object-relations theory of psychoanalysis, which says humans seek satisfaction through their relationships with others.  

Want to know where you fit in? Here’s the lowdown:

Normal: These shoppers are “stable, consistent and prudent,” Albanese tells ScientificAmerican.com. The satisfaction they derive from a purchase stems from the utility of the product itself. “They spend far less than they earn, save for products they can't afford in the present, make their purchases in moderation,” he says. “There isn’t anything specific in their behavior that gives them satisfaction beyond giving them what they need.”

Neurotic: Unlike the normal shopper, the neurotic one hopes that purchases will satisfy emotional needs beyond the usefulness of the products themselves. “The neurotic shopper loves shopping,” Albanese says, and tends not to build up a lot of debt from his or her vice. Skilled at their craft, neurotic shoppers may thrive in the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, he adds. “About the only problematic aspect is that their shopping is excessive,” he says. “They don’t go out on blind buying binges. They tend to plan. They'll look everywhere and won't buy until they find the perfect sweater; people who are neurotic tend to be somewhat indecisive. So it's a problem for themselves but not other people.” Except, that is, when their perfectionism drives them to return products, which they often do if they're not just so. “They exhaust anyone who shops with them,” Albanese notes. “You know it’s going to be a long day and it won’t end until they find the perfect sweater.”

Compulsive (a.k.a. primitive): Compulsive shopping has an addictive quality. These shoppers constantly buy things to relieve anxiety, similar to people who binge on drugs, alcohol, food or exercise. “A true compulsive buyer is driven to engage in repetitive buying binges,” Albanese says. “What the person is buying is not important; it’s the act of buying and the relationship with the salesperson that’s giving them relief from the severe anxiety they’re experiencing that is driving them into these buying binges.” Compulsive shoppers, who make up an estimated 6 percent of the U.S. population, according to a survey published in 2006 in the American Journal of Psychiatry, typically hide their purchases and are ashamed of them, often failing to remove the packaging or price tag, Albanese says. Opulent holiday decorations and messages to buy may depress or overwhelm them, he says. Their behavior often causes major financial problems that impair their personal and professional relationships.

Psychotic: These shoppers tend to suffer from bipolar disorder, which causes them to swing between periods of depression and mania. A manic episode may include a singular, spectacular buying spree during which the shopper may break the law and be jailed or hospitalized, Albanese says. Holiday crowds can bring on a spree, he adds. “We're talking about something far more extreme than even compulsive buyers,” he says. “The consequences are different.”

Image by iStockphoto/berekin

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