Lotteries and Materialism
The act of buying a lottery ticket triggers materialistic fantasies which can result in a loss of self-control. This is according to research by Hyeong Min Kim, associate professor at John Hopkins Carey School of Business in Baltimore. His 2013 study, Situational Materialism: ‘How Entering Lotteries May Undermine Self-Control’, found that ticket buyers can become more imprudent in their financial decision-making.
As part of this analysis, Kim invited 150 New Yorkers to discuss subjects relating to lotteries and shopping. He then split them up into groups. For the first group he installed bowls of sweets into cubicles for participants to snack on while they were quizzed.
They then took part in a quick-response task, measuring how rapidly they recognised materialistic phrases such as ‘Gucci handbag’ and ‘Rolex Watch’. At the start of the session half of the invitees were given instant lottery tickets and instructed not to scratch them until the experiment was over. It was found that the ticket-holders responded faster to the materialistic phrases and consumed more sweets.
The next group featured 90 people, of who 38 had purchased $1 lottery tickets. Each were given three minutes to write down their thoughts which researchers then assessed to discover if they were thinking in concrete or abstract terms.
They were also asked which promotion seemed more attractive to them: an instant $6 coupon or a $12 mailed rebate. Although the rebate required little effort, it couldn’t be claimed for three weeks. Results indicated that those who bought lottery tickets opted for an immediate reward by choosing the $6 coupon. In addition, the thoughts they had written down were more concrete than those of non-lottery subjects.
Members of the final group were given $1 lottery tickets and asked either about products or brands they would buy if they won, or places they’d like to visit if they hit the jackpot. Again, they were given a similar choice as the previous group: instant $20 cash-back on a $60 item or a $28 mailed rebate which they’d receive within a month.
Those who listed the possessions they longed to purchase were more likely to choose the instant gratification of $20 cash-back. However, the participants who were asked to think about the places they’d visit tended to think in a manner that was more abstract and long-term, with a majority also opting for the mailed rebate.
From these experiments,Professor Kim concluded that buying or being in possession of a lottery ticket did indeed trigger materialistic thinking. To explain this, he suggested that people tend to suppress fantasies about expensive items because they’re aware of the dangers that come with impulse buying and excessive debt.
However, entering a lottery or even contemplating the act produces concrete, pleasurable ideas about specific products that are difficult to resist. Consequently, the downsides of spending and other negative implications are often overlooked. As a result, this type of low-level construal thought often brings about a loss of self-control.
While Kim’s research indicates a predominance of lottery-induced self-control failure, he concludes that it is not universal. In fact,his research found that certain methods can deflect materialistic leanings as was illustrated by the subjects who were told to list places they’d like to visit.
This type of high-level construal thought, where the individual is more inclined to think of ‘the bigger picture’, is common among non materialistic people. It follows that such people are less likely to show self-control failure. Therefore, the lesson in all this seems to be that if you choose to play the lottery, try not to become too obsessed. Also try to accept that the joy which comes with materialistic items is short-lived.