Media and advertising's underlying effect on compulsive behavior
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Advertising placement and promotion is a ubiquitous force in the current media-driven society. City skylines are littered with towering canvases of endorsed products and online web pages are flooded with pop-ups selling different goods and services. Whether an individual recognizes it or not, media is consistently targeted with a specific audience in mind. However, an increasing amount of evidence is uncovering the unintended collateral damage of one’s excess exposure to advertising. Especially with a rising rate of new types of compulsion, addressing the unchecked, manipulative power of media and advertising is essential for maintaining a stable sense of health in the modern world.

Compulsive behavior defined

In a pioneering 1987 study from the University of Texas, researchers Faber, O’Guinn and Krych defined behavioral compulsion of any kind as an “inappropriate type of consuming behavior, excessive in itself and obviously disturbing for the existence of individuals who seem to be prone to impulsive consumption.” In addition, researchers Ullman and Krasner also characterized what constituted this loss of control in 1969. They explained that a behavior reaches a compulsive level when it is dominated by a manipulative need in addition to being inappropriate or disruptive.

Over time, a number of new obsessive, habitual actions and activities have been added to a list of labeled compulsions. Although many of these conditions are marketed or defined as “addictions,” only gambling has been incorporated into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an official compulsive behavior. When it comes to media, advertising and behavioral influence, two major categories of conduct and performance are often addressed: compulsive consumption and sexual activity.

As in the case of other impulse issues, many people identified as compulsive spenders characterized their behavior as “out of control.” Those afflicted with the condition report buying things they do not need or have no use for. Regardless of the utility or lack thereof, these pathological actions are fueled by an irresistible urge in the individual’s brain to buy more. Individuals who become aware of their obsession often express feeling confused and frustrated, especially since there is a constant element of being confronted by another financial burden due to their condition.

Tracing compulsion back to the source

An addictive relationship to one’s spending habits was classified as “compulsive consumption” in the 1987 study from the University of Texas. In addition to varying brain activity, perceived social pressure and other internal factors, a fair amount of evidence has been found on the external effect of media and advertising on this kind of activity. In fact, the observation’s significance can be summed up by a question included in its survey that read, “The one thing which would make me happiest at this point in my life is…” The results showed that 15 percent of all participants were concerned with financial status and success. For those with compulsive tendencies, 56.5 percent responded with “no more debts” as their happiest desire and an additional 8.7 percent said they wished for more money.

In a recent study on the influence of advertising on buying behavior, many dimensions of this manipulative relationship were explored. Interesting findings include how a positive perspective toward advertising was associated with compulsive spending and that the avoidance of ads did not necessarily reduce the compulsion. Overall, both of these studies touched on the fact that advertising attracts and grabs the attention of a susceptible subset of existing compulsive spenders. In fact, some with this condition suffer from a prominent element of low esteem. This reduced self-image can translate into an increased vulnerability to the coercion used in various ad strategies.

The influx of sexuality in all sorts of media has become an integral part of the modern entertainment experience. In particular, Internet pornography has become a billion-dollar industry with the level of accessibility that the Internet provides. Over the recent years, greater exposure to enticing content has become more available in mainstream markets as well, with DVDs and pay-per-view services generating close to $4 billion per year. While research concerning sexually compulsive groups is limited, the latest findings in the scientific community state that exposure to sexual content has been associated with increased and earlier sexual activity in adolescents. Also, many studies call for further investigation, as findings about online gratification borders on the line of pathology and habit.

Sovereign Health of California offers specialized treatments for a wide range of mental, behavioral and addictive problems. Our behavioral health program can hone in on the compulsive tendencies to which many people can succumb. Residential centers and facilities are located all across the state, with inpatient and outpatient options in the San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties. If you or someone you know is struggling to control his or her actions, call to speak with an admissions representative anytime at (866) 819-0427 or visit our official website for instant aid.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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