Your Sense of Equality Exposes Your Impulsiveness, Study Claims

Molten chocolate and a piece of a chocolate bar

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Question:  Would you say that you accept the power disparities in our culture (haves vs have nots, powerful vs powerless, Us vs The Man), or resist them?

If you’re like most Americans, you resist them, and according to a new study coming out in the Journal of Marketing, that makes you a more impulsive consumer. 

The study, Power-Distance Belief and Impulsive Buying (PDF), comes from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. It finds that Americans who believe in equality are more impulsive shoppers, and compared to much of the world that makes us a little odd. 

Power-distance belief (PDB) is the degree of power disparity the people of a culture expect and accept. It is measured on a scale of zero to 100–the higher the PDB, the more a person accepts disparity and expects power inequality. The study found that people who have a high PDB score tend to exhibit more self-control and are less impulsive when shopping.  The effect, the study suggests, is particularly pronounced for “vice goods” like chocolate and candy, and less so for “virtue goods” like soy milk and yogurt. 

Researchers conducted multiple experiments and surveys, including one in which they asked 901 Americans with an average income of $50K to describe their attitude toward equality. Then, the researchers observed the participants’ online shopping behavior by giving them $10 to purchase a selection of items and telling them they could keep any unspent money.  The lower the subjects’ PDB, the more impulsive were their purhases.

The connection between PDB and impulsive buying is all about self-control, the authors of the study claim.  Apparently if you feel less entitled to a degree of power (financial, political, organizational, etc), you’re more likely to exhibit self control over your impluses.  Previous studies have found a similar relationship between individualist cultures and impulsiveness, versus collectivist cultures and self control.  A classic example is American culture (individualist) compared to Chinese culture (collectivist) — sometimes used to buttress the “Americans spend, Chinese save” argument.

How do Americans compare to the rest of the world?

  • Average American PDB is 40, low
  • Austria (11), Germany (35) and New Zealand (22) also score low
  • Japan (54), Vietnam (45) and South Africa (49) score in the middle
  • Russia (93), the Philippines (94), Singapore (74), China (80) and India (77) all score high


HT: EurekAlert



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