Shop Till You Fight

Posted on November 24, 2018

Black Friday is arguably the shopping events of the year, not just in America, but in recent years has seen the spread to other countries as well. However, this celebratory event is often marred by reports of fistfights and heated arguments between consumers as they fight over discounted items. Though many would chalk it up to a simple case of bad manners, it could in fact be explained by the phenomenon of psychological ownership.

This refers simply to the idea that we often assert mental ownership over an item or service even before we have physical possession of it. Retailers market their products according to this concept so that we are more likely to purchase their products.

A simple example of this phenomenon in practice is the contest held by famous potato chip brand, Lay’s, in 2008 which invited consumers to suggest and vote for a new flavor. This induced feeling of a personal stake in the brand and upcoming products which debuted successfully around the world.

There are certain factors that can increase the feelings of ownership, such as placing the item in the shopping cart (whether online or in stores), personalizing or designing an item, or having used a particular product for a long time. Psychological ownership can be extended to pretty much anything and everything.

The present studies aimed to investigate how people would react to having something that they viewed as theirs being threatened or infringed upon.

In the first study, participants each made themselves a cup of coffee and customized it to their liking with the use of condiments, which was meant to induce feelings of ownership over the cup of coffee. Later on, a waiter would come to the table and for half of the participants, would move the cup of coffee for no reason.

The results of this study found that participants whose coffee cup was moved by the waiter tipped him 25% lesser than participants who did not receive this manipulation, the reason being that they felt the waiter infringed on their territory.

In the second study, participants designed folders and either pre-made design onto the folder or were asked to come up with their own design. The former induced low psychological ownership while the latter condition was meant to induce high psychological ownership. Subsequently, a confederate would go up to the participant and remark that the participant’s design was similar to theirs. The confederate would then leave the room, but not before not realizing that they had dropped a pen.

The results of the second study found that participants who were told their design was similar to the confederate’s were 66% less likely to return the pen to the confederate. They later reported that it was because they felt the confederate had infringed upon what was theirs. Additionally, they were also more likely to post a selfie of their work on their social media account, furthering their claim and ownership over the design publicly.

Hence, negative reactions can quickly escalate when people perceive an unwanted intrusion from others onto what they have claimed as theirs, which could help explain the incidents of physical and verbal assaults we see in major sales events.

Category(s):Aggression & Violence, Compulsive Spending / Shopping

Source material from Medical Xpress