Academic journal article College Student Journal

Investigating the Role of Life Status Changes and Negative Emotions in Compensatory Consumption among College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Investigating the Role of Life Status Changes and Negative Emotions in Compensatory Consumption among College Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of our research is to investigate whether a relationship exists between life status changes, negative emotional state, and compensatory consumption among college students. Undergraduates from four states completed a questionnaire which assessed the degree to which they were experiencing both life status changes and negative emotional state, as well as the degree to which they engage in compensatory consumption behavior. Results indicated that students experiencing life status changes were more likely to engage in compensatory consumption. Both degree of life status changes and negative emotional state were positively related to compensatory consumption.

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Compensatory consumption behavior, or what is more commonly referred to as retail therapy, occurs "when an individual feels a need, lack, or desire which they cannot satisfy with a primary fulfillment so they use purchasing behavior as an alternative means of fulfillment" (Woodruffe-Burton, 1998, p. 301). Through a series of qualitative interviews, Kacen (1998) and Woodruffe (1997) found that individuals are likely to engage in compensatory consumption behavior when they are experiencing negative emotional states (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness).

One time when individuals may be experiencing negative emotions is during life status changes (Andreasen, 1984). Individuals may experience several life status changes during the time they spend as undergraduates. Throughout their four-plus years as undergraduates, college students are experiencing many transitions as they evolve from adolescents to adults. They face many changes related to their social position, first as high school students transitioning to college students and later as college students transitioning to working adults. Furthermore, they face many other changes in their identity as they form, and perhaps dissolve, relationships with friends, significant others, and instructors along their way through college. During these transitory times, college students may consume in an effort to alleviate some of the psychological tension associated with the life transition (Belk, 1992; Mehta & Belk, 1991; Noble & Walker, 1997).

The purpose of our research is to investigate whether a relationship exists between life status changes, negative emotional state, and compensatory consumption among college students. We propose that college students who are simultaneously experiencing life status changes and negative emotions may engage in compensatory consumption as a means to ease the discomfort associated with their changes in life status. If life status changes and negative emotions are related to compensatory consumption, college administrators may want to implement programs (e.g., extra curricular activities, peer-mentoring programs) to arm students with positive choices for satisfying social-psychological needs during times of stress. These programs could help students avoid incurring unnecessary debt by engaging in less psychologically healthy coping activities during their undergraduate years. A positive relationship suggests that college students may engage in compensatory consumption as one means of dealing with negative emotions and life status changes.

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Gromno's Model of Compensatory Consumption

When consumers engage in any type of compensatory behavior, they use that behavior as "a way to make up for some lack or loss" (Friese, 2000, p. 121). This lack or loss is generally of a social-psychological nature (e.g., negative emotional state). In order to satisfy these social-psychological needs, individuals can engage in many different activities. When individuals attempt to satisfy their social-psychological needs with the consumption of mass-produced goods, they are engaging in a process known as compensatory consumption.

A model of the process of compensatory consumption has been created by Gronmo (1988). …

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