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The plastic trap: Self-threat drives credit usage and status consumption


Social Psychological and Personality Science


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Pettit N C;Sivanathan N


Publication Year



Conspicuous consumption and its accompanying debt played a critical role in crippling global financial markets in 2008. Although a confluence of factors contribute to hyper-consumerism, the authors explore the potential role of two psychological forces—the desire to combat self-threats through compensatory consumption and the relatively pain-free experience of consuming on credit—that may have interactively contributed to the pernicious cycle of consumption and debt. Consistent with their predictions, the authors find that self-threat sways individuals to consume with credit over cash (Experiment 1) and the interactive effect of self-threat, product status, and payment method creates a perfect storm, whereby threatened individuals not only seek to consume high-status goods but also, when using credit, do so at higher costs to themselves (Experiment 2). These findings have broad implications for consumer decision making and offer psychologically grounded insights into the regulation of lending policies aimed at promoting consumer health.


Compensatory consumption; Cash versus credit status; Expenditure; Self-treat; Status

Available on ECCH


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