Emotionally-stable people spend more money during the holidays, according to a new study of two million transactions. The findings suggest that the Grinches of the world do not just have smaller hearts — they have smaller credit card bills, too.
“We’ve known for a while that personality is related to what we call ‘broad outcomes:’ how much money you make or how happy you are or how long you live,” study co-author Sara Weston, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University, said in a statement. “But we know less about why personality is related to those things.”
Past research has shown that shopping can both cause stress and help you cope with it, depending on your disposition. Likewise, there’s ample evidence that the holiday season increases both spending and psychological stress. Yet there has been little data on which personality types are most vulnerable to spending as a result of this seasonality. To answer this question, Weston and her team obtained data from a money management app that provided people with daily reports on their income and spending habits. A total of 2,133 people participated in the study, which included a personality assessment of traits such as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Then researchers looked at how this lined up with 2.2 million transactions during the holiday season, and found that emotionally stable individuals spent more, whereas those who scored high in neuroticism spent less over the same time period.
Still, authors are careful to note that many other factors contribute to how people use their money. Household income surely plays a role, and the study also found that people with artistic interests and active imaginations were more frugal. And the take-home message is surely not that the best way to improve your credit score is to increase your anxiety and neuroticism. Ultimately, the study serves as a broader map to help scientists better understand human behavior.
“By providing objective measures of both annual and holiday spending, the data allow for a truly ecological study of the relationship between personality traits and consumer behavior,” study co-author Joe Gladstone, a professor of consumer behavior at University College London, added.