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Does the real or imagined presence of friends invariantly drive consumers to engage in disinhibited behavior, and give in to the "urge to splurge" in the face of consumption temptations? Or might there be situations in which being with friends or even merely thinking of friends or the friendships we have with them can actually improve self-control? In five studies, using a unique combination of controlled experiments examining overt consumer behavior and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we propose and show that the extent to which consumers identify a goal conflict between giving in to buying temptations on the one hand and the perceived consequences for maintaining satisfactory relationships with close friends on the other is a critical mediator of whether friendship reminders decrease or increase self-control. We further show that such a goal conflict is most likely for consumers with a chronic, compulsive tendency for uncontrolled, disinhibited acquisition and consumption-for consumers classified as compulsive buyers. For their non-compulsive counterparts, in contrast, acts of acquisition and consumption, even incidental disinhibited ones, are perceived to be less problematic in light of their friendships and hence do not induce a goal conflict to the same extent. Our findings provide insights into social influences on self-control and identify the concept of friendship reminders as a way to reduce a common type of dysfunctional consumer behavior. In addition to enhancing consumer well-being, reducing compulsive buying will substantially reduce handling costs for organizations. Hence, the findings are of academic, societal and managerial relevance.
compulsive buying; self-control; social influence; friendship; fmri