FRIDAY, Sept. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Some people go shopping in an attempt to cope with the stress of traumatic events, but it actually makes things worse, according to a small, new study.

The researchers found that traumatic events cause more stress for materialistic people and that they are more likely to spend compulsively as a result. These people tend to have lower self-esteem than others, according to Ayalla Ruvio, an assistant professor of marketing at Michigan State University.

"When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping," Ruvio said in a university news release. "And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse."

The researchers surveyed 139 people from a southern Israeli town that was targeted by rocket attacks for about six months in 2007, and 170 people from another Israeli town that was not under attack.

When faced with a deadly threat, highly materialistic people reported higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and impulsive and compulsive shopping than those who were less materialistic, according to the study recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences.

"The relationship between materialism and stress may be more harmful than commonly thought," Ruvio said.

Post-traumatic stress can be triggered by a wide range of events, including traffic crashes, natural disasters and criminal attacks, the researchers noted.

The investigators also surveyed 855 Americans about their levels of materialism and fear of death. The findings revealed that materialistic people are more likely to try to relieve the fear of death through impulsive and out-of-control spending.

The study results suggest that low self-esteem and fear of death may drive materialism's intensifying effect on extreme stress, according to the release. Future studies should examine the link between stress and materialism in different contexts, Ruvio said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.