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Emotionally stable people spend more on Christmas

13 September 2018

People who are more emotionally stable spend more during the Christmas season, while those who are high in neuroticism spend less, according to new research by UCL and Northwestern University.

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Those with more artistic interests, more active imaginations and who are more open minded spend less, whereas those who are more conscientious, plan ahead and are organised spend more in the lead-up to Christmas.

Researchers also found a positive correlation between extraversion and conscientiousness with Christmas spending.

For the study, published today in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers aggregated more than two million individual transactions from 2,133 participants’ bank accounts, matching spending records to individual survey responses measuring personality.

Data was collected anonymously in collaboration with a money management app, whose customers were invited to take part in the survey and consent to matching their survey responses to their transaction data.

Researchers then compared the relationship between the Big Five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism) with spending habits, showing that personality traits are related to more specific spending behaviours which could impact broad outcomes such as long-term financial goals.

Dr Joe Gladstone (UCL School of Management), who co-lead the research project, said: “These findings can help us understand how people’s personality shapes their spending. This may help us to tackle some of the urgent social problems we face, from increasing personal debt levels to excessive materialism, both of which are found to negatively impact happiness.”

Although the results do not offer explanations on the personality trait links, the researchers have speculated that those showing high levels of openness tend to be low in conventionality and traditionalism, meaning they might be less inclined to follow societal norms such as exchanging gifts at Christmas.

Those showing high levels of neuroticism might be more susceptible to the pressure of Christmas gift-giving, whereas those with lower levels might be less worried about buying the perfect presents or disappointing friends and family.

Co-lead author Dr Sara Weston (Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine) said: “We’ve known for a while that personality is related to what we call ‘broad outcomes’, or how much money you make or how happy you are or how long you live. But we know less about why personality is related to those things.”

Spending was analysed for November and December, with individuals’ average spending prior to this period used as a control variable. This was calculated using all transactions prior to November 1 and dividing this by the number of days the participants had been enrolled in the study to reveal average daily spending.

Most research to date has relied on self-reports of spending. However, these may suffer from biased responding, such as survey takers not answering the questions truthfully. Therefore, the use of transaction data allows for more objective insights into the psychology of money and spending.


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Media contact 

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk