Psychological Parameters of Impulse Buying

Psychological Parameters of Impulse Buying

Personality — Impulse Buying

Defining the Psychological Parameters of Impulse Buying

Impulse buying (IB) represents unplanned, impulsive purchases that make little economic sense. The occasional, inexpensive impulsive purchase may do little harm and may even be healthy, but a pattern of chronic IB can lead to financial ruin. For this reason, understanding the psychological precursors for IB will be important for the creation of effective interventions. Towards this goal, the psychological states that predict IB behaviors were examined. In addition to the cognitive and affective domains included in the Impulse Buying Tendency Scale (IBTS), this study includes for the first time an analysis of the relationship between IB and the two most relevant time perspective domains of future-oriented and present-hedonistic-oriented from the Zimbardo Time Perspective Instrument (ZTPI). In addition, six questions were incorporated into the questionnaire to assess a consumer’s perspective on IB consequences that constituted the Impulse Buying Consequences Scale (IBCS). Based on the data presented here there is a strong negative interaction between future-orientation and the IBTS affective and cognitive domains, and a strong positive interaction between present-hedonistic-orientation and the IBTS domains; however, the interaction between time perspectives and IB consequences was weakly significant for future-oriented only. When consequences were tested for a significant interaction with the IB affective and cognitive domains, a strong positive relationship was discovered. These findings provide empirical support for targeting time perspectives and IB consequences in IB interventions, since these factors would likely be modifiable.

Defining the Psychological Parameters of Impulse Buying

Impulse buying (IB) has been defined as purchasing behavior that is sudden, unplanned (Silvera, Lavack, & Kropp, 2008), and non-rational (Verplanken & Herabadi, 2001). The purpose of IB is believed to be primarily hedonistic, not unlike the habit of consuming alcohol to find relief from negative psychological states (Silvera et al., 2008). Although there may be a utilitarian aspect to the items purchased, the motivation is emotional rather than functional. For example, making a spontaneous purchase as a self-reward can trigger positive feelings, including excitement, pleasure, and elation (Silvera et al., 2008); however, the timing of the emotional ‘reward’ for engaging in IB behavior can anticipate, coincide with, or follow the purchase (Verplanken & Herabadi, 2001). Since impulsivity and cognitive tendencies are influenced by an individual’s personality, personality traits can determine to some extent the prevalence and severity of IB within a population.

The seemingly simple association between IB, impulsivity, negative cognitive states, and the expectation of a positive affective state, belies the complexity of these relationships. For example, Silvera and colleagues (2008) found evidence to support an IB model with two dimensions: affective and cognitive. In the former, negative affect and perceived societal expectations were strongly associated with IB, but only weakly associated with self-esteem. By comparison, IB driven by cognitive factors was only weakly associated with negative affect, societal expectations, and satisfaction with life. These findings suggest IB behaviors are primarily driven by negative affective states and the need to meet perceived societal expectations, a finding that does not fit well within traditional models of consumer behavior such as reasoned action.

The findings of Silvera et al. (2008) are consistent with the results of an earlier study that found several personality traits were strong predictors of IB. Verplanken and Herabadi (2001) developed the Impulse Buying Tendency Scale (IBTS) and together with the Five-Factor Personality Inventory (FFPI), studied the relationship between IB and personality traits on a sample of consumers. The cognitive domain ‘need for structure’ and ‘reliance on an evaluative process’ was inversely correlated with IB, while the affective domain factor ‘action-orientated’ was positively correlated. The overall IBTS score however, revealed that only the affective domain of ‘action-oriented’ was significantly correlated with IB. In other words, some affective and cognitive factors tended to interact in ways that negated the respective impact on IB.

In terms of the Big Five personality traits, only extroverted, conscientiousness, and openness to experience were predictive of IB (Verplanken & Herabadi, 2001). When these results were stratified into the cognitive and affective domains, both contributed to extraverted, but only cognitive contributed to conscientiousness and affective to openness to experiences. When the results of both experiments are considered together it becomes apparent that personality traits can function as strong predictors of IB tendencies. In contrast to the findings of Silvera et al. (2008), however, these results provide convincing evidence of a cognitive contribution to IB.

In light of the affective and cognitive contributions to IB behaviors and the proposed contribution of time perspectives to affect, cognition, and emotion (reviewed by Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999), it makes sense to investigate whether a person’s time perspective influences IB. Zimbardo and Boyd’s (1999) time perspective model contains two domains: (1) an orientation to past and/or future experiences/expectations and (2) a continuum between the two extremes of reasoned decisions to impulsive actions. After discovering significant associations between time perspectives on the one hand, and personality, affective, and situational factors on the other, Zimbardo and Boyd (1999) concluded that a behavioral outcome will depend on the relative contributions of these three domains to an individual’s time perspective. The most obvious finding was a controlling future orientation in college students striving for high levels of academic performance, which was experienced as time pressure.

In support of Zimbardo and Boyd’s (1999) findings, felt time pressure and IB were strong positive predictors of retail purchases by passengers transiting through an airport in Taiwan (Lini & Chen, 2013). The authors of this study examined luxury, travel, dining, and recreational items, but not the relationship between time pressure and IB; however, the data reveal that IB and time pressure are essentially identical predictors of passenger retail behavior. If the retail store provided a comfortable, welcoming shopping experience, the relationship between IB/time pressure and luxury/travel items was reversed, while the relationship between IB/time pressure and dining/recreational items was abolished. One possible conclusion from this data is that time pressured, IB-prone passengers tend to spend their money in less-friendly and unwelcoming retail establishments in airports.

The Current Study

To better understand the relationship between IB, time perspectives, affect, and cognition, the IBTS (Verplanken & Herabadi, 2001) and two subscales from the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (ZTPI) (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999) will be used to evaluate the shopping behaviors of adult shoppers. Based on the literature discussed above, we expect that time perspectives will be a significant predictor of IB prevalence; however, the predictive power of affective states should be much stronger than cognitive. This study will also introduce the concept of consequences and its relation to IB. We predict that consequences will be a significant predictor of IB behavior.



A sample of 400 adults between the ages of 18 and 63 (M = 24.77, SD = 8.10) were surveyed. The sample was gender skewed with 334 women (83.5%).


A combined self-report questionnaire was developed, which incorporated the IBTS and the two ZTPI subdomains future-orientation and present-hedonistic-orientation. In addition, six questions were added to the survey to evaluate the consequences of IB behavior. This was called the Impulse Buying Consequences Scale (IBCS) and utilized a 4-point Likert scale (does not apply to me, applies to me to some degree or some of the time, applies to me a considerable degree or a good part of the time, applies to me very much or most of the time). A higher IBCS score indicates more severe consequences.

The IBTS developed by Verplanken and Herabadi (2001) has 20-items distributed evenly between the cognitive and affective domains. The cognitive subscale questions are presented to the study participant prior to the affective and answers are based on a 5-point Likert scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree). Incorporating the IBTS into the combined questionnaire required reverse-coding of items 1, 2, 4-8, and 14, with a higher score indicating a greater tendency for IB.

The two ZTPI subscales incorporated into the combined questionnaire, future-orientation and present-hedonistic-orientation, consisted of 10 and 19 items, respectively. The questions relied on a 5-point Likert scale, from very uncharacteristic to very characteristic. Total scores for each domain were reported independently.


The scores for each of the domains within the combined questionnaire are reported individually (Table 1). For the ZTPI subdomain of future-orientation the average score was 35.00 (SD = 6.57), within a possible range of 10 to 50. The average score obtained for the ZPTI subdomain present-hedonistic-orientation was 55.23 (SD = 11.58), within a possible range of 19 to 95. The cognitive and affective average scores for the IBTS were 27.78 (SD = 7.25) and 29.72 (SD = 7.18), respectively, with a possible range of 10 to 50. The consequences domain had a possible range of 0 to 18 and the average score was 4.00 (SD = 3.76).

Table 1.

Descriptive statistics for time perspective and IB domains


Standard Deviation

Possible Range




10 — 50




19 — 95

Cognitive IB



10 — 50

Affective IB



10 — 50

IB Consequences



0 — 18

The potential relationships between the time perspective domains and impulse buying were tested using Pearson’s correlation (Table 2). Future- and hedonistic-orientation was negatively and positively associated, respectively, with cognitive and affective IB. All correlations were significant (p < .01). This finding provides support for our prediction that IB and time perspectives interact in a meaningful way, except for the lack of measurable difference between the relative importance of cognition and affect. By comparison, the domain of consequences was negatively correlated with future-orientation only [r (398) = -.13, p < .01]. When the correlation between IB and consequences were evaluated separately from time perspective (Table 3), a significant positive association was found for both cognition [r (398) = .32, p < .01] and affect [r (398) = .52, p < .01]. This result supports our predictions and may even provide some support for our prediction that affective states is a stronger predictor of IB than cognitive.

Table 2.

Correlation between IB domains and time perspective domains

Cognitive IB

Affective IB










** p < .01

Table 3.

Correlation between the IB domains of affective, cognitive, and consequences

Cognitive IB

Affective IB




** p < .01


The findings presented here reveal future-orientation is strongly and negatively associated with cognitive and affective motivations for an IB tendency, while a present-hedonistic-orientation is a strong, positive predictor. The correlations for these four relationships were very close to one another, which suggest no single time perspective domain was controlling. Based on the findings of Zimbardo and Boyd (1999) a future-orientated person tends to be preoccupied by time, or the lack thereof, whereas a present-hedonistic-oriented person tends to purposely avoid wearing a wrist watch. If a conscientious personality encompasses persons who are future-oriented (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999), then this result agrees with Verplanken and Herabadi’s (2001) findings revealing a strong, negative correlation between conscientiousness and cognitive IB.

Verplanken and Herabadi (2001) did not find a significant relationship between affective IB and conscientiousness, which seems to suggest that conscientious people are not susceptible to IB emotional triggers. The correlation coefficients presented here for future-oriented are slightly different, a result that may be consistent our prediction that affective factors are stronger predictors of IB than cognitive, but it is unclear whether this difference is significant. With respect to the findings of Silvera et al. (2008), who found an action-oriented personality was the only trait predictive of IB overall, the compulsiveness typically associated with conscientious personalities could be considered an action- and thus future-oriented trait. If the findings of Verplanken and Herabadi (2001) and Silvera et al. (2008) are combined, then the results presented here a partially consistent. These findings add to the IB research literature by establishing a significant association between time perspectives and IB tendency, in addition to providing empirical support for the strong relationship between time pressure and IB evident in the data presented by Lin and Chen (2013). This is important because an effective IB intervention will depend on the identification and characterization of the modifiable factors that contribute to IB prevalence and time perspectives would be a good interventional candidate.

By comparison, the relationship between the domain of consequences and the two time perspective domains was relatively weak and significant only for future-orientation. This finding suggests that time perspectives may not have a direct or significant interactions with the imagined and experienced consequences of IB. When the relationship between consequences and cognitive and affective IB motivations were examined separately, the data revealed a strong, positive, and asymmetric interaction. Based on the correlation coefficients (Table 3), affective motivations were a stronger predictor of consequences than cognitive. This result is consistent with the findings of Silvera et al. (2008) and Verplanken and Herabadi (2001), who revealed that affective factors tended to be a better predictor of IB than cognitive factors.

There are several limitations to the study’s findings. The contributions of age and gender were not evaluated, so the correlation coefficients presented in tables 2 and 3 represent raw values. These demographic variables were found to be significant predictors of IB by Verplanken and Herabadi (2001), Silvera et al. (2008), and Lin and Chen (2013), while Zimbardo and Boyd (1999) found age and gender biases among the time perspective domains they investigated.

Future studies will attempt to address the limitations of this study and further delineate the boundaries of the findings presented here. A more comprehensive evaluation of the demographic variables for the study population will provide greater insight into the fixed factors that contribute to IB. This would include age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and academic achievement. A more comprehensive identification of the fixed factors would then help define contributions from modifiable factors, such as affect and time-perspectives. If successful, the findings could inform interventions designed to reduce or prevent IB.


Lin, Y.H. & Chen, C.F. (2013). Passengers’ shopping motivations and commercial activities at airports — The moderating effects of time pressure and impulse buying tendency. Tourism Management, 36, 426-34.

Silvera, DH, Lavack, A.M., & Kropp, F. (2008). Impulse buying: The role of affect, social influence, and subjective well-being. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 25(1), 23-33.

Verplanken, B. & Herabadi, A. (2001). Individual differences in impulse buying tendency: Feeling and no thinking. European Journal of Personality, 15, S71-83.

Zimbardo, P.G. & Boyd, J.N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1271-88.


Research literature search strategy

Concept 1


Concept 2


Concept 3


“Impulse buying”













Date of search: 4/5/2014

Database searched: PsychInfo, ProQuest

Search limiters: none

Number of articles in results: 22

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