UUNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX
ECONOMIC AND CONSUMER PSYCHOLOGY
THIRD YEAR PSYCHOLOGY OPTION
Course Organiser: Dr. Helga Dittmar
Draft rubric: This third year option investigates everyday economic and consumer behaviour from a psychological and social psychological perspective. The topics it covers can be described under three broad headings. The first examines how children acquire beliefs about, and learn to participate in, the economy and consumer society, focusing on diverse areas of economic and consumer socialisation. The second deals with specific aspects of economic and consumer life, including shopping and compulsive buying, material possessions and collecting, the psychology of money, management of personal finances (saving, spending, debts), or ethical and green issues in economic and consumer behaviour. The final heading comprises social belief systems and social instituions, for instance lay beliefs about mass consumer society and materialistic values, advertisillg or the social psychology of fashion.
Main aims and objectives: The students should be familiar with diverse sets of literature which describe and analyse individuals' everyday experience of engaging in economic behaviours and living in a mass consumption society. The course is intended to provide students with an understanding of the nature and distinctiveness of the psychological and social psychological frameworks that can be, and have been applied to investigations in these areas. Students are also introduced to the notion that economic and consumer behaviours can be illuminated from different theoretical perspectives, and are invited to evaluate psychological frameworks in the context of perspectives drawn from the disciplines of economics and marketing/consumer psycho!ogy .
Draft course content: The course will consist of eight seminars (I hour 50 minutes), each of whicll is devoted to one of the following topics, which fall under three broad headings:
A. Specific domains of economic and consumer life
- 1. Management of personal finances
- This topic focuses on the role of psychological factors in the ways in which individuals' manage their personal finallces, including patterns of saving, spending and personal debt. Psychological factors are considered in terms of individuals' attitudes and representations (e.g., mental accounts, attitudes towards debt and credit card use) on the one hand, and in terms of social categories and social positions (e.g., gender difterences, life cycle) on the other.
- 2. The psychology of material possessions and collecting
- This topic considers the psychological and social psychological functions material possessions and consumer goods fulfil, over and above utility. Three broad theoretical frameworks are compared and contrasted: (a) biological and sociobiological accounts of an 'acquisitive instinct'; (b) individual-centred frameworks, including control motivation and psychodynamic approaches; and (c) social constructionist perspectives on material goods as symbols of personal and social identity .
- 3. Shopping and shopping addiction
- This topic explores different conceptualisations of shopping through work on shopper typologies and the increasing significance of shopping as a leisure activity and a means to acquire different life-styles. It also reviews recent studies on 'compulsive buying', and contrasts addiction frameworks with perspectives which centre on self-construal and compensation for perceived selfdeficits.
- 4. The psychology of money
- Symbolic and psychological meanings of money are investigated through a comparison between psychodynamic and social psychological approaches. This topic also explores the reasons why money , in contrast to material goods , tends to be seen as culturally unacceptable as a gift.
B. Social belief systems and social institutions
- 5. Lay beliefs about mass consumer society
- This topic considers research on individuals' value systems with particular attention to materialistic values and aspirations. Links between materialistic values and person perception, individual well-being, and emotional experience are considered, as well as lay discourses about mass consumption as consumer liberation vs. consumer entrapment.
- 6. The psychology of advertising
- Starting with an overview of theoretical accounts, this topic addresses two areas of psychological work on advertising: (a) the content of advertising messages with particular emphasis on the construction and/or reproduction of gender stereotypes; (b) the impact of advertising and media on individuals' beliefs and behaviour.
C. Economic and consumer socialisation
- 7. Economic socialisation
- This topic examines the development of children's understanding of the economic world and their acquisition of economic attitudes (e.g., beliefs about wealth and poverty). The main focus is on the comparative evaluation of Piagetian-derived cognitie developmental accounts with social construction perspectives.
- 8. Consumer socialisation
- This topic reviews research on three aspects of consumer socialisation: (a) the contents of knowledge, skills and attitudes learned by children; (b) the processes by which this learning takes place and the relative influence of various socialisation agents, such as peers, family/parents or mass media, and (c) the extent to which knowledge, skills and attitudes affect adult consumer behaviour.
1. Core periodicals:
- Journal of Consumer Research
- British Journal of Social Psychology
- Journal of Economic Psychology
2. Core books:
- Lewis, A., Webley, P. & Furnham, A. (1994). The New Economic Mind. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
- Rudmin, F. W. (1991) (ed). To Have Possessions: A Handbook on Ownership and Property. Special issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6 (6).
- Lunt, P. K. & Livingstone, S. M. (1992). Mass Consumption and Personal Identity: Everyday Economic Ecperience. Buckingham: Open University Press.
- Dittmar, H. (1992). The Social Psychology of Material Possessions: To Have is To Be. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf and New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Lea, S. E. G., Tarpy, R. M. & Webley, P. (1987). The Individual in the Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- McCracken, G. (1990). Culture and Consumption. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
- Berti, A. & Bombi, A. (1988). The Child's Construction of Economics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Furnham, A. & Lunt, P. K. (forthcoming). Economic Socialization: The Economic Beliefs and BehavioIrs of Young People. New York: Sharpe
3. Selected core journal articles:
- Snyder, M. & DeBono, K. G. (1985). Appeals to image and claims about quality: Understanding the psychology of advertising. Journal of Personality and Social Pschology, 49 (3), 586-597.
- Foxall, G. R. (1994). Behavior analysis and consumer psychology. Journal of Economic Psychology, 15 (1), 5-92.
- Lunt, P. K. & Livingstone, S. M. (1991). Everyday explanations for personal debt: A network approach. British Journal of Social Psychology 30, 309-323.
- Dittmar, H. (1992). Perceived material wealth and first impressions. British Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 379-391.