A new study explores the behavior of jealous people, a group known to possess a fury that overshadows that of actual Hell. The study begins by explaining that "jealous individuals often harbor feelings of aggression toward both their relationship partner and their rivals"; however, it notes, jealousy manifests differently in different people. In some cases, the jealous ones just want to shop more in an attempt "to recapture attention."
In "Competing for attention: The effects of jealousy on preference for attention-grabbing products," researcher Xun (Irene) Huang conducted five separate studies to demonstrate the scope of this phenomenon. Each of the studies utilized groups of college students, who were asked to recall experiences in which they felt jealousy and then choose between products in three different product categories, such as handbags, wallets, and clothing. In each category, students could choose between an item with a small logo and one with a large, attention-grabbing one.
Huang's findings indicate that jealous people purchase eye-grabbing products because they want to get attention from other people—not necessarily the subject of their jealousy. Importantly, this phenomenon is exclusive to jealousy; it isn't identified in envious people or those who harbor feelings of powerlessness. Perhaps most interestingly, the researchers found that jealous people don't really care whether the attention-grabbing product is going to raise or lower their social status: They just want any attention that they can get.
Relationship expert Dr. Tony Ferretti tells Broadly that jealousy is rooted in insecurity and that "therefore even attention outside of the context of their relationship will be valued." Tellingly, this study found that people who are jealous were willing to do such foolish things as wear outrageous sunglasses to a formal event, knowing that doing so could be considered inappropriate and thus injure their reputation; this indicates that they want to be noticed, whatever the cost. "Unfortunately, for some negative attention is better than no attention," Ferretti explains. "Their need for acceptance and love may cause them to make bad choices in a desperate attempt to receive attention."
So-called retail therapy is a popular trope in the United States, and it appears to be reflected here. But Ferretti warns that such behavior can be more harmful than helpful. "Retail therapy can be a passive-aggressive behavior in an attempt to punish one's partner, or it can be a way to cope and distract from negative emotions and conflict," Ferretti says. "Often, feelings don't disappear unless you are able to express them directly rather than covering them with a different coping behavior."
The researchers may not be so concerned with curbing these actions. At the conclusion of this study, they note that their findings have implications "for marketing practice," explaining that they may be potentially useful to professionals who wish to exploit the buying power of jealousy to sell gaudy baubles to the suffering consumer. "If print advertisements and in-store displays portray scenes with jealousy-eliciting situations are associated, they could have a positive effect on the selection of products that are likely to capture attention," the study reads. "Television commercials that promote attention grabbing products might do particularly well in the context of sitcoms in which jealousy is a dominant theme."
Alternatively, Ferretti advises that jealous partners can heal their hurt feelings and alter their unhelpful spending. "Jealousy can impact anyone. The real issue is what you do with those feelings," Ferretti explains, offering some lovely options that are less fun than shopping: "Healthy behaviors might include talking directly with your partner and expressing feelings constructively." Ultimately, he suggests people ought to recognize that jealousy arises out of insecurity, and sufferers should try and feel better about themselves without having to wear inappropriate sunglasses at work functions.
"Finding other ways to deal with jealousy and insecurity like exercise is a better alternative than retail therapy," Ferretti says.