Using your credit card–or even a debit card– at the supermarket? Tsk, tsk. Consumers tend to buy unhealthy choices on impulse, and nothing is handier than plastic at the checkout counter. The University at Buffalo’s Satheeshkumar Seenivasan, along with researchers from Cornell University and the State University of New York at Binghamton, teamed up to analyze just this kind of shopping by 1000 households over six months.
They found that paying with cash has a different psychological effect—the “pain of payment”—which works to hold back those impulse purchases. In Buffalo, where medical research is tuned in to the psychological needs of consumers, this can be especially significant to individuals and social service agencies.
According to Science Daily, “Two factors contribute to this intriguing effect,” write authors Manoj Thomas (Cornell University), Kalpesh Kaushik Desai (State University of New York, Binghamton), and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan (State University of New York, Buffalo). “First, there is a correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items: Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responses. Second, cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items.”
Knowing this may even impact the obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control say that 34% of all adults in the US are obese. The researchers say that almost 40% of all purchases in 2006 were paid for with credit and debit cards. They said that relationships between these trends are facilitated by the context of payment. Credit card and debit card payment for groceries may seem unrelated to what consumers eat, but the psychological component of using plastic, already known to be active in impulse purchases, can influence what goes in the shopping cart and home to the kitchen table.
The study can be accessed at Manoj Thomas, Kalpesh Kaushik Desai, and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan. How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases: Visceral Regulation of Vices. Journal of Consumer Research, 2010
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