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Women are inclined to spend more money during times of crisis and when they are depressed than they spend during stable times in their lives, according to a recent study from the UK’s University of Hertfordshire (via AlphaGalileo).

The research, which was conducted by psychology professor Karen Pine, found that 79% of women say that going on a spending spree would cheer them up. This indicates that some women use shopping as an emotion regulator to numb themselves to negative feelings or dissatisfaction with life.

Of the 700 women surveyed, four out of 10 named “depression,” and six out of 10 named “feeling a bit low,” as reasons to go on a spending spree and overspend. Women commonly expressed the notion that shopping has the power to make them feel better, the study found.

The research also revealed that an intense emotional state, high or low, is often responsible for sending women to the stores. “This type of spending, or compensatory consumption, serves as a way of regulating intense emotions”” Pine said, adding that, paradoxically worries about money could end up leading women down the path to more money woes.

Pine likens the use of shopping to regulate emotions to the use of drugs or alcohol. “If shopping is an emotional habit for women they may feel the need to keep spending despite the economic downturn,” she said. “Or, perhaps worse still, if they can’t spend we might see an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.”

Though Pine said psychologists are concerned that the recession may force more women to overspend or increase their risk of mental illness, she also noted that not all the women in the survey were cheered by shopping. One in four had experienced feelings of regret, guilt or shame after buying something in the week prior to the survey. Seven out of 10 women had worried about money during the same period.

Pine is the author of Sheconomics, a book about women and money, which was released on May 21, 2009.

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