Topics: Psychology, Consumerism, Credit history Pages: 4 (855 words) Published: August 12, 2013
What's behind American consumerism?

As Americans increasingly spend more than they earn, psychological research is providing clues as to why.

By Amy Novotney

Monitor Staff

July/August 2008, Vol 39, No. 7

Print version: page 40
Woman holding a bag and a credit card

One bright spot in the midst of the country's economic downturn may be a long-overdue focus on reining in our spending. Since 1982, Americans' personal savings rate has dropped from 11 percent to below zero, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and personal bankruptcy

filings have reached record highs. As the debt load has risen, psychologists have increasingly been called on to explain why Americans overspend. In the last six months alone, APA's Media Referral Service fielded more than 60 requests from media organizations looking to talk to a psychologist about money--more than any other subject during the same time.

Researchers say that new ways of advertising, paired with cultural shifts toward consumerism, seem to be driving the trend.

"Any time the urge strikes, we now have the capability to act on it impulsively, and that creates a much greater challenge for us than was ever the case before," says psychologist Stuart Vyse, PhD, author of "Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold On To Their Money" (Oxford University Press, 2008). "It's only natural that we are having trouble with debt."

The almighty impulse

One culprit may be unending demand on our self-control, says Florida State University social psychologist Roy Baumeister, PhD. Like a muscle that tires after too much use, taking on too many willpower-taxing tasks depletes our resources, and we have trouble succeeding at any of them, according to research by Baumeister in the Journal of Consumer Research (Vol. 28, No. 4).

"When there are too many other new demands on your time--when you're under stress, meeting deadlines at work, dealing with a difficult relationship--you're going to be at...
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