Skip to main content

Menstruation and the Mall

Women are more likely to engage in problematic shopping behaviors during certain times in their menstruation cycle, according to newly published research.

Ladies: Do you sometimes engage in compulsive shopping? Do you find yourself purchasing items on impulse or wildly exceeding your budget?

Newly published research suggests this troubling tendency can be curtailed, simply by changing the time you visit the mall.

Not the time of day. The time of the month.

Writing in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, British psychologists Karen Pine and Ben Fletcher report the shopping behavior of women is influenced by where they are in their menstrual cycle. According to their first-of-its-kind study, a pre-menopausal woman is more likely to make excessive or impulsive purchases the further she is into her cycle.

The researchers, who are with the University of Hertfordshire, conducted a study of 443 women between the ages of 18 and 50, who were recruited through "an editorial piece in a popular monthly women’s magazine.” After providing information on the length of their menstrual cycle and their last menses, the women filled out a survey regarding their buying habits over the previous week.

Specifically, they rated on a 1-to-5 scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree) such statements as “In the last seven days, my spending has been out of control,” and “I have bought something I am unlikely to wear or use.”

These reports were matched with where they were on their cycle during the week in question. (Forty-eight percent were premenstrual, 34 percent were menstrual or post-menstrual and 18 percent were mid-cycle).

“Spending was less controlled, more impulsive and more excessive for women ... the further on they were in their cycle,” the researchers report. Strikingly, almost two-thirds of the premenstrual women reported they had bought something on impulse.

Such problematic behavior may be a product of the mood swings and irritability commonly associated with PMS. But Pine and Fletcher note they also provide evidence for a psychological framework we’ve reported on here and here: The concept that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted.

“We suggest that, in common with other cognitive competencies, the resources that govern spending may also be menstrual-cycle sensitive,” they write, “and our data reflect women’s lower self-regulatory resources during the luteal (pre-menstrual) phase.”

It’s worth noting that resource-depletion theory has recently been challenged. Writing in the journal Psychological Science, a team led by University of Zurich psychologist Veronika Job suggests that losing one’s capacity for self-control is more a belief system than a biological fact. Job and her colleagues report that “people who viewed the capacity for self-control as not limited did not show diminished self-control after a depleting experience.”

So, do we literally lose the capacity to resist temptation during stressful situations, or do we simply give ourselves license to indulge? Either way, the results can show up on our credit card statements. So, if your shopping behavior sometimes spins out of control, you may want to take precautions during certain times of the month. Sometimes the wisest choice is to stay away from the mall — period.