Compulsive Shopping and the Theory of Distance

Written By: Kendra Saxton

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Naturally as humans, we want things that are right in front of us. If we are in a store and we see something that we like, we are automatically drawn to it and immediately want it. Then, it becomes very hard to pull yourself away from that object. I’m sure you have wondered why that is. This process occurs in our brains and it is known as the construal-level theory of psychological distance.

In relation to buying things, the theory is about how the closer an object is to us, the more we want it and the further away it is, the less concerned we are about it (Trope). This is because of something called construals, which by definition are how people perceive and understand the world around them. There are also reference points. For example, the starting reference point for a consumer is before they buy the product and are not in possession of it (Verplanken). In this case, construals and reference points help people understand what is closer and what is farther in regards to their spatial/physical situation.

People begin to feel excitement and very tempting stimuli when they are attracted to something. If this stimulus is not controlled or it is merely ignored, we come to the problem of compulsive shopping. It is very easy to buy things when they are right in front of you, but not being able to resist the urges is what causes impulsivity and compulsivity.

Now, the issue with wanting things that are close to you brings us to a larger problem in our current world of technology. Today, we do not have to physically be in a store to purchase items since we have the ability and the easy access to go online on our laptops or any other electronic device to do the same things. This makes the construal-level theory of psychological distance a serious issue. How much psychologically closer to an object can you be when it is on a screen in front of you?

Technology is making it easier to purchase whatever we want, whenever we want and we never have to give ourselves time to think about the consequences. This is a serious issue as it leads to compulsive shopping which is feeling a need to buy items and not being able to control or stop the constant urge. The scariest part of this is that it leads to more problems such as hoarding, debt and even more psychological issues such as denial and distancing yourself from friends and family. The rise in technology is allowing a rise in compulsive habits and although it is not yet a very prominent issue in the shopping world, it will become one much sooner rather than later.


"Does Place Matter When Shopping Online? Perceptions of Similarity and Familiarity as Indicators of Psychological Distance ." Does Place Matter When Shopping Online? Perceptions of Similarity and Familiarity as Indicators of Psychological Distance. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Trope, Yaacov, and Nira Liberman. "Construal-Level Theory of Psychological Distance." Psychological Review. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.

Verplanken, Bas and Sato, Ayana. “The Psychology of Impulse Buying: An Integrative Self-Regulation Approach.” Springer Science and Business Media.

Photo: UnoTelly. May 4, 2014. How to Shop from U.S. Stores. [Photograph]. Retrieved from