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How Personality Disorder Symptoms Can Affect Purchasing Behavior

Oct 10, 2022
New Vanderbilt Research identifies buying preferences and clinical consumer psychology for consumers with Histrionic Personality Disorder.

By Nathaniel Luce

People who present symptoms of HPD are more likely to make consumer choices for the sake of grabbing others attention, even when those choices are more expensive and offer fewer benefits, according to a new study.

“The Utility of Clinical Psychology Concepts for Judgment and Decision-Making Research: The Case of Histrionic Features,” co-authored by Steven Posavac, E Bronson Ingram Professor of Marketing and an expert in Clinical Consumer Psychology, uncovers another connection between consumer decision-making and clinical disorders.

“We conducted this study to show how clinical psychology symptoms can affect consumers’ judgments and choices,” said Posavac.

Histrionic Personality Disorder affects between 1%-2% of the population. HPD is characterized by extreme emotionality and a desire to be the center of attention, which can lead to behaviors such as dressing provocatively, behaving in an inappropriately seductive manner, and exhibiting shallow, overly dramatic emotions.

Through 4 studies, Posavac and his co-authors identify the product attributes that consumers who present with HPD symptoms prioritize in their purchase decisions.

The studies revealed that consumers with HPD symptomology rated attention-grabbing attributes “Status Symbol” and “Acceleration” over the more practical attributes “Mileage” and “Reliability” when it came to purchasing a car, to the extent that they would prefer a car that rated high on “Status Symbol,” even at the expense of gas mileage and reliability.  They also found that these consumers were more willing to pay for a fancy, expensive rental car versus a standard option to attend their high school reunion, specifically because they thought it was important to rent a car that would grab people’s attention. Moreover, apartment searchers with high HPD symptoms are willing to settle for a smaller apartment if living there will help them draw attention.

“Taken together, our experiments show that clinical symptomology can affect how important consumers perceive given product attributes to be, their choices, the tradeoffs they make, and their willingness to pay,” said Posavac.

The new research represents the latest contribution to the area of Clinical Consumer Psychology, a nascent subfield that Posavac believes can have a profound impact on our understanding of the way individuals with clinical-level symptomologies navigate the consumer-based aspects of our world, and how marketers can keep clinical psychology in mind when crafting marketing messages, campaigns, and brands.

“Growing our understanding of the interplay between clinical and consumer psychology is important for both marketers as well as mental health practitioners,” noted Posavac. “This paper demonstrates that clinical psychology phenomena can drive decision making, which has implications for marketers in crafting products and communications, as well as for practitioners striving to help people lead more adaptive and functional lives.”

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