The Relationship between Personality Traits and Compulsive Buying

Justin R. Bivens
Jonathan S. Gore*
Sytisha Claycomb*

Eastern Kentucky University


The purpose of this study was to examine the association between personality traits and compulsive buying. We hypothesized that extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness all uniquely relate to compulsive buying. Data were gathered from 369 undergraduate students who signed in to an online data gathering system and read an informed consent statement before filling out the questionnaires. The results showed that people with high levels of neuroticism and extraversion and low levels of conscientiousness tend to have more compulsive buying tendencies. Recommendations are suggested about evaluating potential consumers through a personality profile prior to the establishment of credit.


Compulsive buying can be defined as chronic repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events or feelings (O'Guinn & Faber, 1989). Compulsive buying can lead to things such as debt, bad credit scores, and expensive credit card payments. Banks target recent high school graduates for starting up a new credit card account. This can be a serious issue that will affect their credit scores and their future opportunities with things such as rent, opening accounts for utilities, acquiring a mortgage or car loan, and investments that require a good credit score. The information on how certain personality traits affect compulsive buying can be crucial to the success of the students and into adulthood. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between the Big 5 personality traits and compulsive buying habits.

The Big 5 Personality traits are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Much of compulsive buying is also a response to negative feelings. Past research has also found that negative feelings such as distrust and anxiety can influence the likelihood of an individual to have compulsive buying habits (O'Guinn & Faber, 1989). This can mean that students may be more susceptible to compulsive buying if they have higher scores in neuroticism.

Another Big Five trait, conscientiousness, is associated with planning. Conscientiousness is a spectrum of constructs that describe individual differences in the propensity to be self-controlled, responsible to others, hardworking, orderly, and rule abiding (Roberts, Jackson, Fayard, Edmonds, & Meints, 2009).  Conscientiousness can play a major role as far as planning for future expenses, which may result in less compulsive buying. This was also addressed in previously listed article (Donelly, Iyer, & Howell, 2012) when it was stated that individuals manage their money more because they have future orientation. Therefore, we would expect conscientiousness to have a unique, negative relationship to compulsive buying over neuroticism.

Past research has also indicated that interactions between agreeableness and extraversion play a major role in a person's social behavior (Cuperman & Ickes, 2009). Among undergraduate college students, social behaviors will be a large factor in how money is spent. Specifically, past research has shown extraversion to be positively associated with buying compulsiveness and agreeableness to be negatively associated (Balabanis, 2012). Based upon these results, it seemed likely that extraversion and agreeableness should each uniquely contribute to compulsive buying.

In past research, there was little research on how each trait uniquely contributed to compulsive buying and how it is associated. This research will expand on past research and look into each trait in relation to compulsive buying individually to better understand the profile of a compulsive buyer. We hypothesize that agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness all uniquely relate to compulsive buying.


Participants and Procedure

Participants were 369 undergraduates from the psychology participation pool at Eastern Kentucky University who volunteered in exchange for course completion credit. Participants signed up for the study on an online data collection system and read an informed consent statement before proceeding. They then completed the survey measures online and read a debriefing statement before logging out of the system.


Big Five Personality Traits. The participants completed the 50-Item Set of IPIP Big 5 Factor markers Questionnaire (Goldberg, 1992). This showed which participants scored higher in some personality traits than others. The questionnaire consisted of ten items for each personality domain. The participants answered on a 5-point scale (1 = not very true, 5 = very true). The mean of participants' ratings were created to make separate scores for Extraversion (α = .80), Agreeableness (α = .81), Conscientiousness (α = .67), and Neuroticism (α = .86).

Compulsive Buying. The participants completed a seven-item questionnaire to measure compulsive buying. This measure was created by the principal investigator. The seven items state: "If I have any spare money, I feel like I must spend it.", "I have felt that others would be horrified if they knew of my spending habits.", "I have purchased things even though I could not afford them", "I have written a check when I knew I didn't have enough money in the bank to cover it.", "I have purchased something in order to make myself feel better.", "I have felt anxious or nervous on days I didn't go shopping.", and "I have made only the minimum payments of my credit cards." Participants rated the items using a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), and the mean was obtained for an overall score(α = .71).


A bivariate correlation analysis was conducted to test the hypothesis that neuroticism, agreeableness, and extraversion are positively associated with compulsive buying, and that conscientiousness is negatively associated with compulsive buying. The results showed that neuroticism was positively associated with compulsive buying (r = .25, p < .01), whereas conscientiousness (r = -.28, p < .01) and agreeableness (r = -.14, p < .01) were negatively associated with compulsive buying. Extraversion was not significantly associated with compulsive buying (r = -.01, ns). The hypothesis predicted that neuroticism is positively associated with compulsive buying, and both agreeableness and conscientiousness were negatively associated with compulsive buying, all of which were supported by the results. However, extraversion was not significantly associated with compulsive buying. Overall, the hypothesis was mostly supported.

To test the hypothesis that agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness all predict unique variance in compulsive buying, a simultaneous linear regression analysis was conducted with compulsive buying entered as the dependent variable, and the aforementioned traits as independent variables. The results showed that Agreeableness did not predict compulsive buying (β = -.04, ns), however Extraversion predicted compulsive buying (β = .11, p < .05), as well as Conscientiousness (β = -.25, p < .05) and Neuroticism (β = .24, p < .05). Therefore, the hypothesis was only partially supported with extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism being the significant predictors of compulsive buying, but not agreeableness.

A follow-up analysis was conducted to examine the percent of variance in compulsive buying explained by each of the variables. To investigate the percent explained, a hierarchical linear regression analysis was conducted with Conscientiousness entered as an independent variable in Block 1, and then Neuroticism was entered in Block 2, then Extraversion in Block 3, then Agreeableness in Block 4. The results showed that Conscientiousness explained over 8% of the variance in Compulsive Buying (R2 = .08, p < .01). Neuroticism then explained an additional 5% of variance (ΔR2 = .05, p < .01). Extraversion explained an additional 1% of the variance (ΔR2 = .01, p = .05), and Agreeableness did not explain additional variance beyond the other three (ΔR2 = .00, ns). 


It was found that high extraversion, low conscientiousness, and high neuroticism uniquely play a role in compulsive buying, but agreeableness did not uniquely explain why someone would engage in compulsive buying. In previous research it was found that the compulsive buying for both lottery tickets and scratch-cards was found to be positively related to extraversion and negatively related to the agreeableness dimensions of personality (Balabanis, 2001). The results from our study contradict previous findings in the importance of agreeableness being related to compulsive buying due to our scores of agreeableness not showing significant results to compulsive buying. The results did confirm the relationship between extraversion and compulsive buying

Past research also has found that people who don't believe money can buy happiness and have high levels of conscientiousness have better money management due to future orientation and good financial attitudes (Donelly, Iyer & Howell, 2012). Our results further confirmed that conscientiousness is negatively related to compulsive buying as well as neuroticism being positively related to compulsive buying. This builds upon past research that have the same results previously mentioned.

The information gathered can also begin to assign profiles to people that are more likely to have compulsive buying tendencies. Based on the results of the current study, the profile of a compulsive buyer would have high scores of neuroticism and extraversion as well as a low score on conscientiousness. The research can raise personal awareness for people and their own compulsive buying habits. Also it can affect how parents decide to trust their children, who are recent graduates, with the privilege of having credit cards.

Limitations and Future Directions

One of the limitations with this research design is that it is all cross sectional data, which only demonstrates the association between co-occurring variables but provides no clear evidence for how one might cause another. A longitudinal study would serve as a useful way to observe the stability as well as any long-term contributing factors that may have been overlooked. It may also supply a better look at any antecedents that may be influencing factors on a person's compulsive buying tendencies.

Another possible limitation to the study was that the compulsive buying measure was created by one of the researchers and was not yet validated. A possible solution for this would be to use Faber and O'Guinn's (1992) Compulsive Buying scale. This was a validated source, which originally began as a 29-item interview in which scores are reported on a 1-5 Likert scale. However, shortly after it was reduced to seven.

There is also another limitation in only using self-report measures and a college student sample. This leaves room for a possible bias within the test takers. A possible solution would be to examine credit score across various age groups for a follow-up study.


The results indicate that extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism uniquely predict compulsive buying, whereas agreeableness did not. Extraversion and neuroticism were shown to be positively associated with compulsive buying. However, conscientiousness was shown to be negatively associated with compulsive buying, and agreeableness didn't show significant results in being related to compulsive buying. The type of person who we suggest would have a high risk of compulsive buying would be someone who is high in neuroticism and extraversion and low in conscientiousness.


Balabanis, G, (2012). The relationship between lottery ticket and scratch-card buying behaviour, personality and other compulsive behaviours. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 2 , 7-22

Cuperman, R., & Ickes, W. (2009). Big Five Predictors of Behavior and Perceptions in Initial Dyadic Interactions: Personality Similarity Helps Extraverts and Introverts, but Hurts "Disagreeables". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 97, 667-684

Donelly, G., Iyer, R., & Howell, R. T. (2012). The Big Five personality traits, material values, and financial well-being of self-described money managers. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 1129-1142

Faber, R. J., & O'Guinn, T. C. (1992). A clinical screener for compulsive buying. Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 459–469.

Goldberg, L. R. (1992).  The development of markers for the Big-Five factor structure.  Psychological Assessment, 4, 26-42.

 O'Guinn, T. C., & Faber, R.J . (1989). Compulsive buying: A phenomenological exploration. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 147-157

Roberts, B. W., Jackson, J. J., Fayard, J., Edmonds, G., & Meints, J. (2009). Conscientiousness. In M. Leary & R. Hoyle (Eds.) Handbook of individual differences in social behavior (pp. 369). New York, NY: Guilford Press.


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