Compulsive comorbidity and its psychological antecedents: a cross-cultural comparison between the US and South Korea

Hyokjin Kwak George M. Zinkhan and Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir

An executive summary for managers and executive readers can be found at the end of this article.

Introduction
. . . Once a compulsive gambler and now a counselor for those suffering the compulsion, Wexler first bet at age 7. He flipped baseball cards with his buddies. In time gambling came to own him, he made love to his wife while listening for scores from a radio under the bed. Before he could quit, he owed three years’ salary, $30,000. He thought of suicide. One night when his wife feared a miscarriage, he put her in the car for an emergency run to the hospital. “I was praying to God, let her die.” (Sporting News, 1995)

The authors
Hyokjin Kwak is based in the Department of Marketing, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA. George M. Zinkhan is Coca-Cola Company Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia, Georgia, USA. Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir is based in the Department of Advertising, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, The University of Georgia, Georgia, USA.

Keywords
Consumer behaviour, Personalities, United States of America, South Korea

Abstract
Compulsion to buy is an important but neglected aspect of consumer behavior. This research uses cross-cultural data from the USA and South Korea to study compulsive consumption behavior by focusing on individual factors. Three compulsive consumption behaviors (i.e. compulsive buying, compulsive substance abuse, and compulsive gambling/lottery play) are analyzed via structural equation modeling. The findings reveal that comorbidity (i.e. coexistence of more than two related compulsive consumption behaviors) is found in both countries. With one exception, the predicted personality traits (i.e. obsessive thoughts, risk-taking tendencies) are significantly related to compulsive consumption behaviors in both countries.

Electronic access
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0736-3761.htm
Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 21 · Number 6 · 2004 · pp. 418–434 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited · ISSN 0736-3761 DOI 10.1108/07363760410558681

Since the late 1980s, social scientists have become increasingly interested in studying compulsive buying. The “Baby Buster” category of consumers, which represents 44 million American consumers (the 17 percent of the US population born between 1965 and 1976) suffers disproportionately from compulsive buying (Hunt, 1996). Consumer researchers attentive to compulsive buying behavior have refined related concepts, explained the origins and causes of these negative behaviors and assessed the personal and social effects (d’Astous, 1990; Faber and O’Guinn, 1989, 1992; Faber et al., 1987; Hanley and Wilhelm, 1992; Hassay and Smith, 1996; Kwak et al., 2002a; Lyi et al., 1997a; Scherhorn et al., 1990; Valence et al., 1988). Results from previous studies suggest that many compulsive buyers simultaneously exhibit other compulsive behaviors, a phenomenon which has been labeled “comorbidity” in psychiatry (Faber et al., 1995; McElroy et al., 1991; Valence et al., 1988). Several authors have articulated the need for broader investigations to account for multiple forms of compulsive or addictive consumption (Faber et al., 1995; Hirschman, 1992). The present study examines commonalities among compulsive buying behavior, compulsive alcohol/ drug use, and compulsive gambling/lottery play. In conjunction with the possibility of a form of compulsive comorbidity, we also investigate two psychological traits as possible antecedents to predict those compulsive consumption behaviors: obsessive thoughts and risk-taking tendency. These two variables may prove fruitful in terms of understanding several compulsive consumption behaviors. For example, obsessive thoughts have become recognized as a popular component of general compulsion (i.e. obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)) in psychiatry literature. However, this trait has been rarely introduced in the marketing literature.

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A contribution of the present paper lies in cross-national comparison of the phenomenon. Although research of compulsive buying behavior has been extended to other cultures (i.e. German, Canada, South Korea), few studies have tested cultural differences of compulsive purchase behavior. Here, comparative data, with subjects drawn simultaneously from the US and Korea, are used to examine the possible cultural dissimilarities of the behavior through the proposed models. The choice to survey subjects from the US and South Korea was made for two reasons. First, the comparable economic status of the two nations suggests that consumer buying patterns should reflect that similarity. Second, traditional differences between an eastern and western country provide an opportunity to compare and contrast the impact of differing cultural values. In contrast, to previous research which draws on homogeneous populations, the use of cross-cultural evidence reinforces the impact of the findings since it tests robustness in similar economic but different cultural situations. In summary, the study contains three main research themes. Three forms of compulsive consumption behaviors, compulsive buying behavior, psychoactive substance abuse and compulsive gambling/lottery, are tested as comorbidities. Second, these behavioral components are included in an integrated network, with personality traits serving as the antecedents of compulsive consumption. Specifically, the integrated network outlines the key relationships between personality traits (i.e. obsessive thoughts and risk-taking tendencies) and behaviors. This network may prove effective in predicting possible anti-social behaviors in pathological buyers. Finally, cross-national differences between the US and Korea are investigated. Two empirical models are introduced and tested using two data sets: one from the US and one from Korea. Overall conceptual model for the study is shown in Figure 1.

suffering from compulsive buying behavior are likely to have other impulse disorders such as pathological gambling, substance abuse, and eating disorders, and/or have relatives with impulse control disorders (Faber et al., 1995; Hirschman, 1992; McElroy et al., 1991; Valence et al., 1988). For the present study, compulsive gambling/ lottery playing and compulsive drug/alcohol use are chosen as the related compulsive disorders to examine comorbidity factors with compulsive buying behavior. Most researchers agree that these two compulsive consumption patterns are strongly interrelated (Briggs et al., 1996; Faber and O’Guinn, 1992; Regier et al., 1990; Rosenthal, 1993). In the following sections, we discuss in more detail, the concepts of compulsive buying, gambling, and substance abuse. Compulsive buying behavior d’Astous (1990) argued that all consumers can be fitted along an “urge to buy” continuum and that those in the upper extreme of this continuum can be referred to as compulsive buyers. O’Guinn and Faber (1989) insist that any definition of compulsive buying must include two criteria: (1) the behavior must be repetitive, and (2) the behavior must be problematic for the individual. Using these two criteria, O’Guinn and Faber (1989) defined compulsive buying as “chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feeling. The activity, while perhaps providing short-term rewards, becomes very difficult to stop and ultimately results in harmful consequences” (p. 155). With easier access to malls, a sea of products available, and little or no social stigma attached to constant shopping (which formerly had been considered an indication of moral or spiritual decay, Hirschman 1992), compulsive shoppers encounter temptations daily. For most consumers, purchasing plays a minor part in their everyday routine. Not all individuals who experience arousal, read promotional messages, or have a family history of compulsive disorders suffer from compulsive buying behavior. For some, buying can become an allencompassing, focal point of their life. The urge to shop is, for those individuals, uncontrollable. A powerful urge creates tensions or anxieties that are alleviated only through buying. However, for the sufferer, the experienced relief that results from a purchase is fleeting. Over time, this buying behavior frequently leads to other compounding negative consequences such as emotional, financial and interpersonal problems (Faber, 1992).

Comorbidity in compulsive consumption behaviors – model 1
One important dark side of compulsive consumption is the likelihood of “comorbidity,” which is defined as coexistence of multiple compulsive behaviors (Faber et al., 1995; McElroy et al., 1991; Valence et al., 1988). For example, compulsive buyers often acquire other types of chronic destructive habits such as drug and alcohol use, or gambling and lottery playing. Research on brain activity and chemical intervention is suggestive of a physiological linkage. Genetic evidence also supports the finding that people

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Figure 1 Overall conceptual model

Compulsive gambling/lottery playing Late 20th century society is a materialistic one in which dreams of achieving sudden opulence are encouraged by many factors. Gambling is touted as one easy way to make the dreams come true. Concomitantly, there has been a remarkable change in social attitudes toward gambling which had formerly carried the stigma of violence, greed, and corruption (Kaplan, 1989). Now, state-sponsored lotteries abound. Gambling tips, advice, and skillful gamblers’ debates are delivered through mass media. Occasionally, a big win of several million dollars occupies the headlines of national and even international news. Furthermore, in the name of the public good, state governments advertise their lotteries through television commercials (including during prime time) and other media to encourage audience participation. According to International Gaming Wagering Business, the 38 states with lotteries budgeted approximately $200 million for state-lottery advertising in 1998; private casino advertising enjoys a protected status in some states (Teinowitz, 1999). Most states have legalized gambling in order to generate revenues (Christiansen, 1987; Kaplan, 1989). Increased legalization (supply) causes greater accessibility (demand) and consequently, increasing numbers of pathological gamblers who are stimulated by the aggressive marketing (Rosenthal, 1993). Recently, it has been estimated that 5 to 10 million people in the US (approximately 2 percent of the population) are compulsive gamblers. Further, an additional 3 percent of the population are identified as problem gamblers ( Jacobs, 1989; Volberg and Steadman, 1989).

Why do people gamble? Social gambling has long been a source of entertainment. The origins of gambling can be dated to 3000 BC when Egyptian astragals, the early bone precursors of dice, were used to predict the future (Dickerson, 1984). For most people, gambling is one-time fun, a socially acceptable recreational act. However for others, gambling becomes all-consuming and may result in personal and even family destruction. The many forms of gambling, from flipping a coin to more involved games such as lotteries, casinos, off-course betting, poker machines, bingo, sports pools, etc. have changed the way people gamble and think about gambling. Recently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) refers to compulsive gambling as “chronic and progressive failure to resist impulses to gamble and gambling behavior that compromises, disrupts, or damages personal, family, or vocational pursuits. . . Characteristic problems include extensive indebtedness and consequent default on debts and other financial responsibilities, disrupted family relationships, inattention to work, and financially motivated illegal activities to pay for gambling” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pp. 615-8). Researchers examining gamblers who bet habitually and lose heavily have variously labeled problem gamblers as pathological (Abbott et al., 1995; Moran, 1970; Skinner, 1953), compulsive (Bergler, 1957; Johnson et al., 1992; Peck, 1986), and addicts ( Jacobs, 1986; Koller, 1972). Compulsive drug/alcohol use According to results based on the epidemiological study of the National Institute of Mental Health,

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nearly 20 percent (about 48 million people) of the general US population were identified as having problems of psychoactive substance use at some point during their life time (Regier et al., 1990). Teenagers are a major demographic group who exhibit drug abuse. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (1990), alcohol is the number one drug of choice among American teens. Based on findings derived from studying patients admitted to alcoholism facilities, Wallace (1996) notes that chronic consumers of large quantities of alcohol suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, low frustration tolerance, serious deficiencies in self-esteem, and identity problems. The uncomfortable status pertaining to these psychological problems increases the likelihood of more advanced drug-seeking behavior and consumption, which in turn leads to personal destruction in extreme cases (e.g. suicidal thinking and suicide attempts) (Hirschman, 1992; Nowinski, 1996; Wallace, 1996). Researchers note that impaired controls, such as poor impulse control and weakly controlled anger, are common characteristics among drug and alcohol abusers (Wallace, 1996). Both classical and operant conditioning theories have been widely used to explain why people abuse drugs (Winger et al., 1992). Classical conditioning theory focuses on changes in the autonomic nervous system, e.g. bodily functions that respond beyond our direct control to a stimulus. Based on this perspective, Pearlman (1988) notes that people may abuse drugs and alcohol to orient themselves to a group that includes drug abusers; or drug and alcohol abuse may function to maintain the group. Consequently, it is not surprising to note that marketing efforts related to addictive products such as beer and cigarettes have been aimed at specific social and cultural groups. According to Heath (1988), alcoholism can be explained from an anthropological perspective. A population’s beliefs, attitudes, and values regarding the political, economic, social, and psychological outcomes of alcohol consumption are determinants related to alcohol-consumption behavior. In other words, drug-related problems occur when a person does not follow the population’s norms of drug use, and the person’s abnormal behavior may be caused by the amount of depression produced by the population’s requirement for conformity to the norms ( Winger et al., 1992). Comorbidity Consumers who demonstrate one of the negative behaviors described here may be more likely to engage in other compulsive consumption

behaviors at the same time. Compulsive buyers are frequently caught up in an irresistible pursuit of buying things in order to release themselves from an internally unstable status, to alleviate their discomfort and feelings of self-loathing. They may also turn to binge eating, drugs, alcohol, or gambling in search of similar reinforcement. These behaviors feel like ideal companions for compulsive buyers. However, the short-term gratifications derived from compulsive buying never satisfy the internal emptiness; therefore, compulsive buyers increasingly search for more powerful reinforcers. Psychiatrists have found that approximately 30-50 percent of individuals receiving inpatient treatment for compulsive gambling meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol or drug abuse (Ramirez et al., 1983). Also, heavier lottery playing has been linked with compulsive buying behavior (Burns et al., 1990). The recognition of the dually-addicted or cross-addicted phenomenon has led researchers in psychiatry, psychology, and marketing to investigate comorbidity. Comorbidity research has identified intractable psychological and behavioral problems in compulsive subjects. For example, those who habitually use drugs may participate in another substance use simultaneously. These carryover effects are frequently noted; for instance, most alcoholics smoke, and heroin users are also likely to use a wide variety of drugs including alcohol (Winger et al., 1992). Regier et al. (1990) report that those who suffer from a psychiatric disorder incur twice the risk of developing a drinking problem and four times the risk of a drug problem compared to the general population. Another sociological factor triggering compulsive consumption behaviors is family structure. Past decades have witnessed dramatic increases of emotionally distressed and economically undermined conditions in family structures: divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, and single-parent families (Abbott et al., 1995; Cherlin, 1992). Typically, there has been parental absence or neglect in the childhood family surrounding of compulsive buyers, gamblers, and drug users (Abbott et al., 1995; d’Astous, 1990; d’Astous et al., 1990; Franklin and Thomas, 1989; Rindfleisch et al., 1997). Franklin and Thomas (1989) also argue that many children of pathological gamblers start smoking, drinking, or experimenting with drugs at an early age. Parents’ compulsive buying tendency and alcoholism were also found to be related to their offspring’s compulsive buying tendency (d’Astous et al., 1990). Thus, consumers raised in such an environment may be at risk for developing compulsive consumption behaviors.

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In cognitive psychology, research findings examining causes of compulsive consumption behaviors suggest that compulsive buyers, gamblers, and drug users share intolerable feeling states such as anxiety, loss of control, helplessness, depression, guilt, problems in self-esteem and self-deception (d’Astous et al., 1990; Dickerson, 1984; Faber and O’Guinn, 1992; Hanley and Wilhelm, 1992; Hirschman, 1992; Rosenthal, 1993; Scherhorn et al., 1990; Wallace, 1996). Another commonality between compulsive buyers and compulsive gamblers is the tendency to hide the consequences of their behaviors. For example, compulsive gamblers often hide the amount and frequency of their losses; dishonesty is a prime character trait (Gowen, 1995). Similarly, compulsive buyers report that they often hide products purchased and sometimes never remove the items from the packaging (Faber and O’Guinn, 1992; O’Guinn and Faber, 1989). In sum, the extant literature reveals many psychological and behavioral commonalities among different compulsive consumption behaviors. To date, research examining cross-addicted behaviors has focused mainly on dual-addicted behavior (e.g. compulsive buying and alcoholism, binge eating disorder and drug abuse, drug abuse and gambling). In this study, compulsive buying, substance abuse, and gambling behavior are integrated in a united network of pathological behaviors since these three abnormal behaviors have been widely examined in marketing, psychology, and psychiatry literatures. A conceptual framework is presented in Figure 1 and our first hypothesis is formally stated as: [MODEL 1] H1. A comorbidity factor exists; and it accounts for the association between compulsive buying tendency, compulsive gambling behavior, and compulsive substance abuse in both the US and Korea (see pictorial representation of this hypothesis in Figure 2).

personality antecedents to three compulsive consumption behaviors: compulsive buying, compulsive substance abuse, and compulsive gambling behavior. Obsessive thoughts In general, obsessive thoughts are the first stage in developing compulsive behavior. Thus, to explore how and why obsessions develop is central to understanding compulsive consumer behavior. Obsessions are persistent “thoughts” and irresistible urges which are extraordinarily difficult to resist. According to the American Psychiatric Association (1994, p. 418), “Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate, and that cause marked anxiety or distress.” Most obsessions form recurring thoughts and fears about contamination, indecisiveness, repeated doubts, perfectionism, causing harm to another, behaving in a socially unacceptable manner, and a need to have things in a particular order (Frost and Shows, 1993; Melville, 1977; Tallis, 1995; Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu, 1997). Obsessive thoughts have appeared in historical accounts for centuries. As early as 1638 Younge, a British physician, noted the obsessional ruminator’s indecisiveness. Approximately one century later (1757) Woodward, another British physician, researched an obsessional delusion (Hunter and Macalpine, 1963). Obsessive thoughts are considered largely involuntary and interrupt continuous conscious behavior. In contrast, compulsions are considered as more linked to voluntary actions and as such are connected with intentions to resist repetitive inappropriate behavior (Tallis, 1995). Tallis (1995) notes that higher levels of resistance are frequently found in the early phases of obsessional disease. However, the chronic suffering induced by resistance compels the person to renounce “the struggle” and causes a swift relinquishing of chronic resistance (Stern and Cobb, 1978). Most researchers concur with the APA definition and describe obsessionals by mentioning the following four characteristics which recur as doubts and fears: perfectionism, contamination, fear of harming others, fear of socially unacceptable behaving. Researchers examining the etiologies of OCD personality disorder have tended to subsume their manifestations under the concept of perfectionism (Frost and Shows, 1993). Reed (1977) also notes that indecisiveness is the most central character among OCD patients. Indecisiveness has frequently been defined as fear of making a mistake (e.g. losing something valuable, flooding the house, and so on), which, in turn, leads to the imperative for certainty, called

Psychological antecedents to compulsive consumptions – model 2
With a model for understanding how compulsive consumption behaviors are defined and related, the question can now be raised: what personality traits contribute to the development of these tendencies? O’Guinn and Faber (1989) argue that there is no single factor that can explain the etiology of compulsive buying. They propose that it is a combination of physiological, genetic, psychological, social and cultural factors. In this study, consumers’ obsessive thoughts and risk-taking personalities are considered as possible

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Figure 2 Findings for compulsive comorbidity (Second-Order Factor Analysis) – Model 1 (H1)

perfectionism (Beck and Freeman, 1990; Guidano and Liotti, 1983). Straus (1948) and Salzman (1980) argue that obsessionals strive to control their environment completely. Conversely, indecisiveness is a by-product outcome derived from their need for perfection. More recently, Frost and Shows (1993) report that subjects who scored high on an Indecisiveness Scale, which was correlated with obsessionality, perfectionism, compulsive checking and hoarding in their study, have longer latencies on an experimental decisionmaking task (procrastination tendency). Other classic symptoms of obsession are the fear of causing harm to others (e.g. spreading illness, smothering a child) and the fear of behaving in a socially unacceptable manner (e.g. swearing, making sexual advances). Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu (1997) argue that such fears come from an individual’s vacillations between compulsion and impulsion, and their thoughts about social (dis)approval. In other words, obsessionals identify their compulsion as an impulsion; but, unlike compulsions, the impulsion is usually punishable by society and goes against the patients’ conscious and moral values (Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu, 1997). This moral issue may generate conflicting doubts about making right-wrong decisions within a given social context. Consequently, reluctance to make any

decision may lead obsessionals to eventual social isolation. The fear of contamination (e.g. fearing dirt, germs, cancer, AIDS) is also a recognized symptom related to obsessions, which, in turn, usually leads to ritualistic washing after touching people or things (Lewis, 1997; Sanavio, 1988; Tallis, 1995). Psychiatrists term such behavior as “cherniptomania” (Lewis, 1997). To date, consumer researchers have not distinguished obsession from compulsion in testing compulsive buying behavior (e.g. Faber and O’Guinn, 1988, 1992; O’Guinn and Faber, 1989). However, researchers have found that 15-24 percent of the OCD patients have only obsessions, which means that not every obsessional develops compulsions (Yaryura-Tobias and Neziroglu, 1997). Further, although obsessive thoughts were not a focal interest, there is some evidence suggesting the relationship between compulsive consumption behavior and obsessive thoughts, in that OCD was positively associated with compulsive buying behavior (Faber and O’Guinn, 1988, 1992; O’Guinn and Faber, 1989). Chronic obsessional disorders show higher resistance at the early phase and generate compulsive urges. That is, the primary compulsion seems to stimulate a secondary compulsion (Tallis, 1995). Thus, we hypothesize that obsessive thoughts are an antecedent to compulsive

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behaviors: buying, drug use, and gambling (Figure 1). [MODEL 2] H2. Consumers who have obsessive thoughts (about fears of perfectionism, contamination, causing harm to others, or socially unacceptable behavior) are likely to engage in compulsive buying tendencies, compulsive gambling/lottery behaviors, and compulsive drug/alcohol use simultaneously in both the US and Korea (see pictorial representation in Figure 3). Risk-taking propensity The concept of risk is important for understanding how consumers make choices. Reflecting the importance of risk in a variety of contexts, there are a number of different and competing definitions and operationalizations of the concept. Sitkin and Pablo (1992) suggest that risk is a concept that can be applied to two different kinds of “units”. First, situations or problems can be rated as less or more risky (Dowling, 1986). Second, persons can be distinguished by their preferences or attitudes toward risk (Bromiley and Curley, 1992; Zinkhan and Karande, 1991). Individuals face risk when a decision, action or behavior leads to different possible outcomes (Bem, 1980). In other words, when an individual’s action produces social and economic consequences that cannot be estimated with

certainty, risk is encountered (Zinkhan and Karande, 1991). Risk-taking personality has been extensively investigated in the area of compulsive behavior research. Campbell (1976) conducted an assessment of general attitude toward gamblers with the Strong Vocational Interest Blank. The author asked a sample of the general population to answer the question: “Who wants to be a professional gambler?” Vocations that highly and positively correlated with “be a professional gambler” were: . an auto racer; . a jet pilot; . bandits in a sheriff’s office; . poker player; . a professional athlete; and . a secret service agent. Just as men are more likely to gamble, the respondents perceived gambling as a masculine active. It is important to note that both gamblers and other types of employments associated with gamblers can be positioned as high-risk jobs. West (1989) argues that the most common view of motivation is that people do things because they assume the “doing” is better than not doing; people anticipate the usefulness of future courses of action. In this respect, the perceived consequences of a behavior are among the motivational factors in decision-making processes. This approach has been labeled as subjective expected utility model (SEU). The SEU model

Figure 3 Findings for psychological antecedents for compulsive consumptions – Model 2 (H2/H3)

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assumes that people make decisions by first imagining the outcome “as if” they had already made the decision. Using that model, Kogan and Wallach (1967) showed a 50-70 percent success rate in laboratory studies examining the prediction of choice between two outcomes. Furthermore, the authors maintain that choices might be better explained when it is understood that “risk” differs from person to person. Another important aspect of risk is uncertainty or ambiguity. Uncertainty is generally related to variability in the distribution of potential outcomes. The greater the variance, the more different possible outcomes exist and the less probable each outcome becomes. With many outcomes, it is difficult to predict which outcome will actually occur. The probability of occurrence of extreme outcomes (e.g. death in the loss domain or winning the major lottery prize in the gains domain) affects the assessed risk of a situation. Elsberg (1961), however, provided critical evidence against the SEU through the so-called “Ellsberg Paradox”. He found that people, when asked to bet on the event that a red or black ball will be drawn from an urn containing both red and black balls, prefer an urn with 50 red balls and 50 black balls to one with an unknown proportion of red and black balls. One interpretation of this result is that individuals’ psychological (in) tolerance of ambiguity will affect their inclination to prefer a gamble with known probabilities to an ambiguous gamble (Sherman, 1974). A common phenomenon for compulsive consumers is their unusually low arousal to an optimum level. Zuckerman (1983) reports that sensation seekers appraise risk to be less and they anticipate arousal as more positive than a control group. Sensation seekers are likely to experience or engage in drug abuse, risky sports, anxiety, impulsiveness, compulsive buying tendency, and gambling (Coventry and Brown, 1993; Lyi et al., 1997b; Rook and Fisher, 1995; Zuckerman, 1983). Further, using the Choice Dilemma Questionnaire which measures risk-taking inclinations, Kogan and Wallach (1964) studied the effects of motivational determinants on a number of psychological constructs, including risk taking. Their underlying motivational model included two moderator variables: defensiveness and test anxiety (both high and low). They found that subjects high on both defensiveness and anxiety tended to show greater regularity on risk taking across situations. Thus, based on the literature review, we hypothesize that compulsive consumption behaviors are enhanced by an individual’s risk-taking personality in order to release anxiety and depression (Figure 1):

[MODEL 2] H3. Consumers with risk-taking personalities are likely to engage in compulsive buying behavior, compulsive gambling/lottery behavior, and compulsive drug/alcohol use simultaneously in both the US and Korea (see pictorial representation in Figure 3).

Method
Sample Questionnaires were simultaneously administered in the US and Korea. Questions regarding consumers’ compulsive consumption behaviors, compulsive buying intention and related normative beliefs, and risk-taking personality were included with demographic variables in the questionnaire. A convenience sample of 252 individuals was gathered using undergraduate business students at an American university in the southeast. In Seoul, Korea, 232 journalism and business undergraduate students formed the convenience sample. The questionnaires were administered to both student samples during their normal class times. After eliminating incomplete surveys, there were 242 respondents in the US (96 percent, 242/252) and 201 respondents in Korea (87 percent, 201/232). We believe that students are acceptable in our study for several reasons. First, college students have general purchase knowledge and shopping experience (Cole and Sherrell, 1995) and sometimes engage in excessive shopping behaviors (e.g. in terms of credit card use) (d’Astous et al., 1990). Second, compulsive buying phenomena for college students seem to be roughly equivalent to general consumers. For example, Roberts and Jones (2001) concluded that 9 percent of their student sample were compulsive buyers, about the same as the “less than ten percent” of the general consumer sample that have been reported elsewhere (Faber and O’Guinn, 1992). Thirdly, many studies have utilized student samples in investigating compulsive buying behavior (Cole and Sherrell, 1995; d’Astous et al., 1990; Roberts, 1998; Roberts and Jones, 2001; Roberts and Sepulveda, 1999). Measures The hypotheses are tested using structural equation modeling (SEM). Reliable instruments are highly recommended in pursuing SEM. Thus, several steps of item purification are conducted before testing the main conceptual models. The scales used in the present study were initially translated into Korean by the researcher. Using back-translation, the precision of the translation was reviewed and revised two times by three other

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Korean bilingual scholars of advertising, psychology and marketing who are also familiar with English-language survey instruments. Construct correlations, means, standard deviations, and reliabilities throughout our measures are reported in Table I. Compulsive buying behavior For the assessment of compulsive buying behavior, Faber and O’Guinn (1992) seven-item Diagnostic Screener for Compulsive Buying which is a Likerttype scale with 5 points (strongly disagree/strongly agree and never/very often) was adopted. The scale was selected for the present study since the instrument has often been used in the field of compulsive consumer research and has showed good reliability (Faber and Christenson, 1996; Faber and O’Guinn, 1992; Faber et al., 1995; Kwak et al., 2002b; Lyi et al., 1997b; Rindfleisch et al., 1997). The items showed acceptable reliability coefficients of 0.75. for the US and 0.74 for Korea. High scores on the scales show higher consumer tendencies on compulsive buying. Risk-taking personality Kogan and Wallach (1964) scale was included to measure consumers’ risk taking as a personality variable via a projective technique and a twelve-item, 6-point scale (the Choice Dilemma Questionnaire). This scale has been widely used in marketing and psychology (Brockhaus, 1980; Hensley, 1977; Kogan and Wallach, 1964; Schaninger, 1976; Wallach and Kogan, 1959, 1961; Zinkhan and Karande, 1991). An updated version of the scale was adopted. This version has been designed: (1) to update the scale to the 1990s; and (2) to make it appropriate for cross-cultural research (Zinkhan and Karande 1991). An example of one of the items is presented in Appendix. Acceptable reliability coefficients were obtained: 0.68 for the US and 0.88 for Korea. Higher scores on the measurement indicate stronger risk-taking propensities.

Pilot study A pilot study was conducted for the following scales in order to purify the items: obsessive thoughts, compulsive gambling, and compulsive drug abuse. In order to measure consumers’ obsessive thoughts, a 4-item scale was formulated based on the extant literature (Appendix). The items represented four facets of obsessions: (1) fear of contamination; (2) fear of causing harm to another; (3) fear of making a mistake; and (4) fear for behaving in a socially unacceptable manner. It was constructed with a five-point Likert-type scale (Never/Very Often). As for compulsive gambling and drug abuse scales adopted in the study, they have not been frequently used in the marketing literature. Gamblers Anonymous offers a 20-item selfdiagnosis scale for identifying compulsive gambling (Gamblers Anoymous, 1999). Here, we modified the instrument to create a 5-point Likert-type scale (never/very often). Because of the nature of the subjects (members of academic communities) and their relative inaccessibility to gambling facilities coupled with the current dramatic increase in lottery play, “lottery” was added as one of the gambling behaviors (e.g. “Have you ever felt remorse after gambling or playing the lottery?”). Johns Hopkins Hospital’s 19-item Alcohol/ Drug Addiction scale for self-diagnosis was adopted to assess subjects’ compulsive drug use tendency ( Johns Hopkins Hospital, 1999). It has been developed to identify an individual’s substance abuse. A “yes” to three or more questions indicates that abuse or addiction is present and corrective steps need to be taken. The scale was modified by creating 5-point Likert-type items (never/very often). A convenience sample of 73 individuals was gathered using both university students and residents in a southern area in the US. The sample included 21 undergraduate psychology students,

Table I Construct correlations, means, standard deviations, and reliabilities 1 Korea 1. Obsessive thoughts 2. Risk-taking propensity 3. Compulsive buying 4. Compulsive drug abuse 5. Compulsive gambling Mean SD Alpha 1.00 0.59 0.54 0.46 0.29 1.96 0.68 0.72 2 0.03 1.00 0.57 0.55 0.32 3.81 1.60 0.88 3 0.16 0.16 1.00 0.49 0.26 1.89 0.65 0.74 4 0.23 0.14 0.30 1.00 0.48 1.50 0.41 0.86 The US 5 0.16 0.08 0.10 0.32 1.00 1.30 0.40 0.83 Mean 2.04 4.17 2.07 1.26 1.26 SD 0.62 1.09 0.63 0.32 0.41 Alpha 0.67 0.68 0.75 0.88 0.87

Note: Descriptions for the US sample are above the diagonal whereas descriptions for the Korean sample are below the diagonal

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16 undergraduate journalism students, 20 graduate journalism and business students, and 16 area residents. Following the analysis, all four items of Obsessive thoughts were maintained owing to their item-total correlation range from 0.39 to 0.61 with adequate reliability (coefficient a ¼ 0.67). However, two items for Compulsive Alcohol/Drug and eight items for Compulsive Gambling were deleted since item-total correlations of the items eliminated were below 0.35. These two measures demonstrate strong internal consistency, with a coefficient a of 0.90 for CAD and 0.91 for CGA. Thus, 4-item Obsessive Thoughts, 12-item Compulsive Gambling, and 17-item Compulsive Alcohol/Drug were retained for our main questionnaire survey. Obsessive thoughts. After the pilot study, all four items for both countries generated a unidimensional construct. Cronbach’s a was 0.67 for the US version and 0.72 for the Korean version. Higher scores on the scale indicate higher degree of obsessive thoughts. Compulsive gambling behavior. All 12 items produced by the pilot study were subjected to a reliability test with the main data. Acceptable reliability coefficient was achieved in the US (0.87) and Korea (0.83). Higher scores on the measure mean higher tendency to engage in compulsive gambling. Compulsive alcohol/drug use. As a result of the pilot study, 17 items were retained for the scale. Reliability of the scale was acceptable with a of 0.86 for Korea and 0.88 for the US. Higher scores on the scale indicate higher degree of compulsive consumption in drug and alcohol.

approach (Bagozzi and Heatherton, 1994) was adopted. In other words, each construct was reorganized to possess three indicators in the same way across the two countries (see Figures 2 and 3). For example, the latent variable of risk-taking propensity has three indicators, X4, X5, and X6, which are the sums of 4 items each randomly coming from the 12 items originally designated to measure the construct. Same items were used to generate new summated items for the entire latent variables in the two countries. Evaluating cross-cultural measurement invariance Research findings show that a cross-cultural measurement invariance test is needed to support outcomes when cross-national data are used (Hui and Triandis, 1985; Joreskog and Sorbom, 1996; Steenkamp and Baumgartner, 1998). As clearly stated by Steenkamp and Baumgartner (1998), “If evidence supporting a measure’s invariance is lacking, conclusions based on that scale are at best ambiguous and at worst erroneous.” Steenkamp and Baumgartner (1998) indicate that full or partial metric invariance should be obtained for a cross-cultural comparison. We basically investigated two issues: (1) if the number of designated factors is invariant; and (2) if the pattern of factor loadings is invariant. Thus, we first conducted a series of full-metric equivalence tests throughout our 5 scales. That is, two nested models (i.e. baseline model versus constrained model) were evaluated for each construct separately using Chi-square differences. Baseline model allowed all error and factor loading estimates to be free, and construct variance (f) was constrained to be equal across the two samples since all our construct have three indicators and one of them was used as a reference indicators across the two groups. In the constrained model, parameter estimates for the remaining factor loadings were constrained to be equal across the two samples. First, as provided in Table II, all baseline models show acceptable model fit indices (e.g. over 0.90 in both GFI and CFI) and three of the scales (i.e. obsessive thoughts, compulsive buying, compulsive drug abuse), suggesting that all constructs are most appropriately explained by a unidimensional model for both countries. Second, a series of comparison of baseline models with constrained models (full metric invariance tests) reveal that all constructs except Risk-Taking Propensity operate in the same way for both countries. Partial metric invariance was conducted for risk-taking tendency by sequentially releasing equality constraints on lambda estimates. After all,

Analysis and results
All SEM analyses in the present study are performed using covariance matrices. In evaluating model fit, the goodness-of-fit index (GFI) and the comparative fit index (CFI) with the traditional measure of model fit, chi-square fit index are considered. Given the fact that chi-square test statistic is very sensitive to multivariate normality and sufficiently large sample size, and produces instable results with the violation of such a basic assumption, researchers have been generally advised to use another fit indices (Gerbing and Anderson, 1993; Jaccard and Wan, 1996). In addition to statistical evaluation of fit using chisquare value, GFI and CFI over 0.90 will be considered as criterion for the good fit and these indices have been found to be well-behaved criterion even in small sample situation (Bentler, 1990; Jaccard and Wan, 1996). In constructing measurement models, the partial disaggregation

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Table II Cross-cultural metric invariance tests

x
Obsessive thoughts Risk-taking propensity Compulsive buying Compulsive drug abuse Compulsive gambling

2

Baseline Model df GFI 1 1 1 1 1 0.997 0.960 0.999 0.999 0.994

CFI 0.995 0.955 1.000 1.000 0.994

x

2

Constrained Modela df GFI 3 3 2 3 3 3 0.996 0.938 0.957 0.998 0.994 0.992

CFI 1.000 0.921 0.946 1.000 0.995 0.993

Dx2 0.978 16.275* 4.214* 1.455 4.738 2.428

Ddf 2 2 1 2 2 2

1.929 22.837* 0.548 0.867 4.873*

2.907 39.112* 27.051* 2.003 5.605 7.301*

Notes:*significant at p , 0.05; GFI (goodness of fit index); CFI (comparative fit index); aFull matrix tests are conducted except the second constrained model for “risk-taking propensity (partial metric test)”

we find significant Chi-square difference (Dx2 ¼ 4:21 with 1 degree of freedom, p , 0:05). However, we suggest that the construct of risk-taking tendency is marginally operating in the same way through the two countries based on GFI (0.967) and CFI (0.946). Overall, a series of full and partial metric invariance tests suggest that all the five scales have the same metric properties, and that future findings based on these scales between these two countries are valid and reliable. Evaluating hypothesized relationships Before testing structural models, we investigated psychometric properties of measurement models in Model 1 and Model 1. First, as discussed earlier, our measures are unidimensional across the two countries (i.e. evidences from cross-cultural metric invariance) and acceptable reliability scores. Convergent validity was obtained by all lambda coefficients being large enough (. 0:60) and significant ( p , 0:05) through the two cultures. Correlations among the latent constructs were significantly less than one in the two countries, supporting discriminant validity of our measurement models. Comorbidity in compulsive consumption behavior (Model 1) H1 specifies that the three types of compulsive behavior are linked: compulsive buying behavior, compulsive gambling, and compulsive drug use. Using hierarchical factor analysis, a higher order factor was generated to represent general compulsive consumption behavior (Figure 2). Overall goodness-of-fit indices indicated that the hypothesized second-order factor model fitted the data well across the countries, suggesting that the comorbidity construct is most appropriately explained by such a higher order model. For the Korean model, the chi-square value was 44.47 (24, p . 0:05) and GFI and CFI were 0.953 and 0.970, respectively. For the US, the model could not be rejected: x2 ð24Þ ¼ 64:23; p , 0:05; GFI ¼ 0:944; CFI ¼ 0:956: The ratio of the contribution to

compulsive comorbidity among compulsive buying, compulsive drug use, and compulsive gambling was 3.2:10:3.1 for the US model and 4.8/ 10/4.4, indicating that compulsive drug and alcohol consumption shares the largest amount to account for general compulsive consumption behavior for both countries and all gammas are significant ð p , 0:05Þ: Thus, H1 is supported in both countries (Figure 2). In order to make the results of H1 more concrete, a cross validation of the second-order factor model was performed. In doing so, the model was re-specified as a two-group (the US and Korea) model, and no equality constraints were imposed (baseline model). Overall goodness-of-fit indices for this multigrain model generated an acceptable fit to the data: x2 ð48Þ ¼ 108:698; p . 0:05; GFI ¼ 0:944; CFI ¼ 0:962: This result suggests that our hierarchical model (Model 1) is operating in both countries and provides a good summary of the data. As a second test, a nested model (within Model 1) was generated to see if there is a structural invariance between the two cultures. In other words, all factor loadings and structural coefficients were constrained to be equal through the two countries. The Dx2 (9, 12.892) between the baseline model and the constrained model was not significant ðp . 0:05Þ: Thus, we are confident that our findings for H1 are generalizable between the two samples. The summary of the cross-cultural structural invariance tests is provided in Table III. Psychological antecedents to compulsive consumptions (Model 2) As specified in H2 and H3, consumers’ compulsive consumption behaviors are influenced by personality traits such as obsessive thoughts and risk-taking tendencies. These hypotheses and findings are represented graphically in Figure 3. The model fit was acceptable, and all lambdas are significant and large for both countries: for the US, x2 ð84Þ ¼ 145:62; p . 0:05; GFI ¼ 0:925; CFI ¼ 0:942; and, for Korea, x2 ð84Þ ¼ 210:88; p . 0:05; GFI ¼ 0:877; CFI ¼ 0:889: Regarding

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Hyokjin Kwak, George M. Zinkhan and Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir

Table III Cross-cultural structural invariance tests

x
Model 1 (H1) Model 2 (H2/H3)

2

Baseline Modela df GFI 48 168 0.944 0.925

CFI 0.962 0.916

x

2

Constrained Modelb df GFI 57 183 0.939 0.918

CFI 0.960 0.916

Dx2 12.892 21.527

Ddf 9 15

108.698 356.504

121.590 378.031

Notes: None of the Chi-Square values are significant at p , 0.05; GFI (goodness of fit index); CFI (comparative fit index); aNo constrains are made between the two countries; bAll factor loadings and structural coefficients are constrained to be equal through the two countries. However, structural coefficient for “risk-taking-propensity ! compulsive gambling (g32)” is not constrained to be invariant between the two groups since the relationship is found insignificant.

the impact of consumers’ obsessive thoughts (H2), all hypothesized relationships were statistically supported for both nations ð p , 0:05Þ: Finally, the results indicate that the impact of consumers’ risktaking personalities (H3) was all positively and significantly linked to those three types of compulsive consumptions for both countries with the exception of the influence on compulsive drug abuse for US respondents (g32 ¼ 0:16; t ¼ 1:93) (Figure 3). Thus, the overall results support the hypothesis that consumers’ obsessive thoughts and risk-taking tendencies have an impact on compulsive consumption behaviors. Again, we performed some additional tests to cross validate Model 2 (Table III). Our baseline model (no constrained model) fit the data well: x2 ð168Þ ¼ 356:504; p . 0:05; GFI ¼ 0:925; CFI ¼ 0:916: In generating a constrained model, we put equal constraints in all factor loadings and structural coefficients except the path coefficient between risk-taking propensity and compulsive gambling since the relationship was significant in Korea whereas it was nonsignificant in the US. As a result, we obtained nonsignificant Dx2 (15, 21.527). These outcomes from a series of cross-national structural invariance tests suggest that our Model 2 and H2/H3 are tested in the same structural environments across the two countries. Summary results of our hypothesis testing are shown in Table IV.

Discussion
Using cross-cultural data from the US and Korea, the topic of compulsive consumers was explored. As hypothesized, the comorbidity of some compulsive consumption behaviors was found among college students in both cultures. Consumers who exhibit one compulsive consumption behavior tend to develop others conterminously. One noteworthy outcome of the present study, compared to previous research testing comorbidity, is the investigation of the behavioral commonalities between compulsive buying, compulsive substance abuse, and

compulsive gambling. The results suggest that compulsive consumers might commonly experience at least two other dysfunctional behaviors simultaneously. The findings show that people may even experience a wide variety of compulsions simultaneously. For instance, most purchased products, even clearly unnecessary ones, can serve as positive rewards or reinforcers for compulsive buyers and thus strengthen a long (or never-ending) spiral of compulsive behavior. However, abnormal buying behaviors also provoke feelings of guilt. These abnormal behaviors, which initially serve as tranquilizers or even as solutions for social unease, lead to potentially worse pathologies. The findings of this study support the contention that the psychological origins of compulsive buying and gambling behaviors and the physiological origins of compulsive substance abuse may coexist as indicated by the afflicted person’s association of destructive behavior outcomes with positive rewards. Having established causal relationships between these personality traits and the compulsive behaviors, this research adds a new dimension to our understanding. Traditionally, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem have been considered to be the key psychological traits related to compulsive behaviors. That is, it was postulated that consumers’ obsessive thoughts and risk-taking propensities are the personality determinants of compulsive consumption behaviors. As expected, most of the specified causal links were significant in both cultures. An exception to this pattern is found for the link between risk-taking personality and compulsive gambling in the US sample. Regarding the US data, compulsive gambling showed strong direct paths from these two antecedent personality variables. For the Korean sample, compulsive gambling and compulsive buying behavior were strongly linked with consumers’ risk-taking tendency and obsessive thoughts, respectively. We tested four theoretical perspectives in this paper, and we found empirical support for two of them: (1) Kogan and Wallach (1967) SEU theory; and (2) the OCD conceptual model.

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Table IV Summary results of hypothesis testing Model Model 1 Model 2 Hypothesis Key relationship Existence of comorbidity of compulsive behaviors Obsessive thoughts ! compulsive buying Obsessive thoughts ! compulsive drug use Obsessive thoughts ! compulsive gambling Risk-taking propensity ! compulsive buying Risk-taking propensity ! compulsive drug use Risk-taking propensity ! compulsive gambling The US Supported Supported Supported Supported Supported Supported Not supported Korea Supported Supported Supported Supported Supported Supported Supported

H1 H2

H3

These two approaches may be especially promising as the foundation for future research on compulsive behavior and other related crosscultural phenomena. Hofstede’s (1991) theory of cultural values was also not supported by our results. Specifically, we found that the US and Korea are similar rather than dissimilar with respect to the cultural value of ambiguity or uncertainty avoidance. However, Hofstede’s (1991) theory was originally created to explain workplace values. Here, we find that the theory is not applicable to a consumer behavior setting. More research is required to determine which of Hofstede’s dimensions (if any) are applicable to consumer behavior and under which circumstances. In contrast, we find that compulsive behaviors are well explained by Kogan and Wallach’s (1967) SEU theory. In other words, compulsive consumers may be uncertain in a compulsive purchase situation, yet they may subjectively interpret the phenomenon as favorable and take some risks. Thus, in the future, it may be more productive for researchers to look at consumers’ psychological properties rather than their common demographic profiles when investigating crosscultural consumer behaviors. This study also provides support for the conceptual model (e.g. OCD theory) that links obsessive thoughts with compulsive behavior and OCDs. In the two cultures, we found a strong link between obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors (e.g. purchase, substance abuse, gambling). In the future, researchers may want to focus research attention on these two conceptual approaches which worked well here – SEU theory and OCD theory. Some limitations in interpreting the results must be noted. First, a student sample was used. Second, the measurement properties of some of the scales could be improved. Third, the analysis presented is based on cross-sectional data, which may not capture fully the complexities of compulsive buying patterns. Future researchers may wish to implement a longitudinal design to study the chronic development of impulsive control disorders. Intervention strategies may also

be investigated so that researchers can begin to develop ways to alleviate some of the dark symptoms associated with compulsive buying behaviors (e.g. family disruptions, suicides). Indeed, a triangulation approach is needed for further studies investigating these related behaviors in detail. Another avenue for the study of compulsive buyers arises from the ethical issues surrounding such vulnerable consumers. Marketing-related ethics (e.g. promotional messages) were not the focus of the present research; nonetheless, the purchasing environment is saturated with promotional messages. For example, gamblinglike promotions for a credit card read: “. . .buy anything you like and you will be automatically entered to $10,000 sweepstakes. . .” For average consumers the impact of such messages may be negligible. However, for compulsive consumers these messages may serve as unavoidable reinforcers encouraging even more purchases. The sheer ubiquity of promotional messages makes these ethical considerations paramount and research regarding them crucial. As a group, compulsive buyers are risk-takers and doubters. Their fundamental internal contradictions lead to behaviors with negative personal and social consequences. For them, serious problems arise not necessarily from their financial situation, but from their inner poverty. Such psychological pennilessness has the potential to push compulsive consumers into an abyss of despair. Social scientists can work to improve the life quality of compulsive consumers by learning more about this disorder.

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Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 21 · Number 6 · 2004 · 418–434

Hyokjin Kwak, George M. Zinkhan and Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir

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Compulsive comorbidity and its psychological antecedents

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 21 · Number 6 · 2004 · 418–434

Hyokjin Kwak, George M. Zinkhan and Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir

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(3) I live in constant fear of making a mistake (e.g. setting fire to the house, flooding the house, losing something valuable, bankrupting the company). (4) I feel fear for behaving in a socially unacceptable manner (e.g. swearing, making sexual advances, saying the wrong thing).

Appendix
Obsessive thoughts (OT) Consumers’ obsessive thoughts were assessed for four items, using a 5-point scale: 1¼ never and 5 ¼ very often). (1) I feel fear of contamination (e.g. fearing dirt, germs, cancer, AIDS, bodily wastes, asbestos, chemicals, radiation, sticky substances). (2) I am in fear of causing harm to another (e.g. putting poison in food, spreading illness, smothering a child, pushing a stranger in front of a car, running over a pedestrian).

An item of CDQ Ms. C, a married woman with two children, has a steady job that pays her about $20,000 (W15,000,000) per year. She can easily afford the necessities of life, but few of the luxuries. Ms. C’s father, who died recently, carried a $16,000 (W10,000,000) life insurance policy. Ms. C would like to invest this money in stocks. She is well aware of the secure high quality stocks and bonds that would pay approximately 6 percent on her investment. On the other hand, Ms. C has heard that the stocks of a relatively unknown Company X might double their present value if a new product currently in production is favorably received by the buying public. However, if the product is unfavorably received, the stocks would decline in value. Imagine you are advising Ms. C. Listed below are several probabilities or odds that Company X will double their value. Please check the lowest probability that you would consider acceptable for Ms. C to invest in Company X stocks. _______ The chances are 1 in 10 that the stocks will double their value. _______ The chances are 3 in 10 that the stocks will double their value. _______ The chances are 5 in 10 that the stocks will double their value. _______ The chances are 7 in 10 that the stocks will double their value. _______ The chances are 9 in 10 that the stocks will double their value. _______ Place a check here if you think Ms. C should not invest in Company X stocks, no matter what the probabilities.

Executive summary and implications for managers and executives
This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of this article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

433

Compulsive comorbidity and its psychological antecedents

Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 21 · Number 6 · 2004 · 418–434

Hyokjin Kwak, George M. Zinkhan and Elizabeth P. Lester Roushanzamir

Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – compulsive consumer behaviour One of the challenges for marketers is how we promote legal products that have the potential to cause harm or create addictive or compulsive behaviour. On the one hand we recognise the rights associated with free speech (first amendment rights in the USA) and their extension to include the “speech” that is advertising. On the other hand, however, we see a duty on us individually and collectively to act ethically. This situation remains something of a tricky area. Some so-called consumer activists, lobby groups and politicians argue for severe constraints on the promotion of “dangerous” products. Others use legal actions to secure compensation on the premise that the addictive individual could not help himself. Such actions are likely to increase as the lobbyists and lawyers extend their sights from tobacco products to alcohol and fatty foods. Kwak, Zinkhan and Roushanzamir present a fascinating study of “comorbidity” from the perspective of marketing rather than psychology. In doing so they widen the debate about the ethics of advertising gambling, alcohol and other “dangerous” or addictive products. Importantly they show how compulsive activities (such as, in this case, compulsive shopping) often link to addictive or compulsive behavior in another area of life such as gambling or drinking. The next aspect of Kwak et al’s work that adds to our understanding is the assessment of cultural influences on compulsive behavior through the comparison of Korean and US samples. Importantly, the primary causal links remained the same across cultures with the exception that risk-taking personality takes on a more significant role among the Korean sample. Addiction or compulsion? We have become used to the populist use of the term “addict” to describe compulsive behavior (such and such a celebrity admits to being a “sex addict”, for example) and we also use the term “shopaholic” to describe the kind of behavior best described as compulsive buying. However, there is an important distinction between addiction and compulsion with the latter being a better description of the characteristic described by Kwak et al. The issue for marketers is to appreciate the existence of such compulsions, be aware of their symptoms and provide mechanisms to reduce the negative impact of compulsive behavior. It is not for marketers to adopt a judgmental position with regard to what is, in its fundamentals and mental illness or at best a “personality disorder”. We need to consider the ethics but not to let the problems of a few spoil the enjoyment of the many.

The consumption of marketing messages by compulsives It is likely (and Kwak et al. make this clear) the compulsives consume marketing messages somewhat differently from the average consumer. The authors illustrate this with the common example of a promotional sweepstake. To the normal consumer this is simply an appealing incentive to purchase but for the compulsive gambler the message acts only to reinforce the compulsive behavior. This dichotomy presents a problem for marketers. Do we respond to the concerns about encouraging compulsive behavior or ignore them as a “minority”? There is a strong argument for regulation and control in the case of sales promotions but the case is not so easy to make with image advertising. For sales promotions involving chance or gambling there is a direct appeal to those with a compulsion to engage in such activity. It seems right to constrain the circumstances where gambling takes place so as to discourage the association of a chance to win with a purchase. Thus, in UK law sweepstakes and prize draws are only allowed as a promotion where the entry is free. We can see the same problems associated with other types of promotion where they seem to encourage (over the period of the offer) frequent and perhaps unnecessary purchase. Again the various regulations constraining promotions of this type act (perhaps not with intent) to mitigate the worst influences on compulsive consumers. In the case of image advertising, the debate will continue between those who believe advertising to be manipulative and those who see it as legitimate commercial free speech. It is hard to argue against constraints over the content and location of advertising for such products as alcoholic drinks, casinos and tobacco. Most developed countries have these restrictions to a greater or lesser extent (some statutory, others based on a self-regulatory system) but this does not reduce the pressure to further restrict or even ban advertising for these products. With compulsive buying, the problem is clearly more broad-based. Any advertisement is an inducement to purchase and short of a complete ban on ads this will not change. However, there is a case for reducing the encouragement to stock up or the representation of compulsive shopping behavior in an advertisement. Kwak et al’s recommendation that social scientists understand the social impact of compulsive behavior is a good one and those involved in marketing products subject to compulsive behavior need to play their part in this work. ´ (A precis of the article “Compulsive comorbidity and its psychological antecedents: a cross-cultural comparison between the US and South Korea.” Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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