The article was last updated by Dr. Emily Tan on February 4, 2024.

Materialism, a complex phenomenon deeply rooted in consumer culture, has garnered significant attention in psychological studies. From exploring the different theories of materialism to investigating the factors that influence it, researchers have delved into the effects of materialism on psychological well-being, relationships, and even the environment.

But can materialism be changed? This article will examine how interventions and personal reflection can potentially shift our perspectives on material possessions, and the broader implications of materialism in society.

Key Takeaways:

  • Materialism is the pursuit and importance placed on wealth and material possessions.
  • Studies have shown that personal values, social comparison, and media influence can all contribute to materialistic tendencies.
  • Materialism can have negative effects on psychological well-being, relationships, and the environment.
  • What is Materialism?

    Materialism, as studied in psychology, refers to the belief that possessions and acquisitions play a crucial role in defining success and happiness, with empirical studies conducted by various scholars highlighting its impact on individual well-being and personality.

    Researchers like Dittmar et al. have delved into the psychological underpinnings of materialism, shedding light on how consumer culture influences individuals’ self-esteem and overall life satisfaction.

    Studies by Kasser have focused on the negative consequences of prioritizing material possessions over intrinsic values, emphasizing the importance of intrinsic motivations for long-term well-being.

    Richins and Dawson’s work has contributed to understanding the link between materialism and personality traits such neuroticism and narcissism.

    Individuals high in materialism tend to exhibit higher levels of these traits, which can have implications for their interpersonal relationships and overall mental health.

    How is Materialism Studied in Psychology?

    Materialism is a subject of exploration in psychology through empirical studies and psychological research, aiming to understand its components, implications, and associations with well-being and values.

    Studies conducted by researchers such as Pieters and Solberg et al. have delved into the psychological frameworks shaping materialistic attitudes. Through surveys, interviews, and experiments, these scholars have identified various factors contributing to materialism, such as social influences, personality traits, and cultural norms.

    The work of Shrum et al. has revealed intriguing connections between materialistic values and individuals’ psychological well-being. By analyzing consumers’ behaviors and attitudes towards possessions, researchers have managed to shed light on the complex interplay between materialism and mental health.

    What are the Different Theories of Materialism?

    Various theories of materialism, including acquisition centrality and possession-defined success, offer insights into the motivations and influences behind individuals’ materialistic attitudes and behaviors.

    The acquisition centrality theory, proposed by Burroughs and Rindfleisch, emphasizes the role of possessions in guiding one’s sense of self-worth and social status. It suggests that individuals place a high value on material possessions to define and enhance their identity.

    In contrast, the possession-defined success theory, as discussed by Roberts and Clement, delves into how individuals measure success and happiness based on their accumulation of possessions. This theory posits that material possessions serve as symbols of achievement and social esteem.

    Ahuvia and Wong further expand on these theories, highlighting the impact of materialism on self-esteem and interdependent self-construal. They argue that materialistic values can lead individuals to prioritize personal gains over communal well-being, affecting their relationships and sense of belonging.

    What Factors Influence Materialism?

    Materialism is influenced by various factors, including personal values, social comparison, and exposure to advertising and media, affecting how people perceive and prioritize possessions in their pursuit of happiness and self-worth.

    Researchers like Segev et al. have highlighted the impact of individual beliefs and principles in shaping materialistic inclinations. Personal values play a crucial role in dictating what individuals consider essential for their well-being.

    Social influences, as discussed by Górnik-Durose and Boroń, can amplify materialistic tendencies by fostering comparisons with others based on possessions and status symbols. Exposure to ubiquitous advertising and media messages, as noted by Ashton and Lee, can cultivate desires for material possessions and create a perpetual cycle of consumption.

    Personal Values

    Personal values play a significant role in shaping one’s materialistic tendencies and perceptions, influencing aspects like self-esteem and personality traits associated with materialism.

    Research by Costa and McCrae has highlighted how individuals with certain values may be more predisposed to materialistic attitudes.

    For example, individuals valuing achievement and power may seek validation through material possessions, potentially leading to higher levels of self-esteem when they acquire these possessions.

    On the other hand, traits like neuroticism and narcissism, as discussed by Miller et al., can also play a role in driving materialistic desires, with neurotic individuals using material goods as a coping mechanism and narcissistic individuals seeking to showcase their superiority through possessions.

    Social Comparison

    Social comparison serves as a critical factor influencing materialism, as individuals assess their possessions and success in relation to others, shaping their sense of happiness and well-being through these comparative relationships.

    Studies by Hong et al. (2017) highlight that these comparison processes are pervasive in modern society, fueled by social media platforms that showcase idealized lifestyles, fostering a culture of comparison and envy.

    Research conducted by Pilch and Górnik-Durose (2019) delves into the complexities of how individuals use others as benchmarks for their own worth and desirability of possessions.

    This constant comparison can strain relationships, as it may lead to feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, and competition among peers.

    Advertising and Media

    The pervasive influence of advertising and media on materialistic tendencies has been a subject of study, revealing the strong link between media exposure, consumer culture, and materialistic values in society.

    Research conducted by scholars such as Miriam Tatzel and Rose has delved into the intricate relationship between media consumption patterns and consumer behavior, highlighting how the constant bombardment of materialistic messages through various media channels can shape individual perceptions of success and happiness.

    Studies by Bergman et al. have further emphasized the impact of exposure to materialistic ideals on shaping personal value systems, showing how individuals who are consistently exposed to images and narratives promoting material wealth tend to prioritize possessions and external indicators of success over intrinsic values.

    What Are the Effects of Materialism?

    Materialism has profound effects on psychological well-being, interpersonal relationships, and even environmental impact, with research indicating both positive and negative associations with materialistic attitudes and behaviors.

    Studies by Górnik-Durose and Boroń suggest that materialistic individuals often experience lower levels of well-being, as the pursuit of possessions can lead to decreased life satisfaction and increased feelings of insecurity. Research conducted by Roberts and Clement highlights the damaging effects of materialism on interpersonal relationships, showing that focusing on material possessions can strain social connections and diminish the quality of personal interactions.

    Segev et al.’s findings underscore the environmental consequences of materialism, revealing that excessive consumption driven by materialistic values contributes to ecological degradation and resource depletion, thus posing significant challenges to sustainability efforts.

    Psychological Well-being

    Materialism’s impact on psychological well-being is a topic of interest in research, with studies revealing complex associations between materialistic values, happiness levels, and overall life satisfaction.

    For instance, research by Górnik-Durose and Boroń (2016) highlights how individuals prioritizing material possessions tend to experience lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction, possibly due to the misplaced focus on external sources of validation. In a similar vein, Roberts and Clement (2007) delve into the psychological implications of materialism, suggesting that a strong emphasis on wealth and possessions may lead to a decline in subjective well-being.


    Materialism’s impact on relationships is a key area of study, with self-report data indicating varying levels of satisfaction, conflicts, and connection patterns among individuals with differing materialistic attitudes.

    Researchers such as Dittmar et al. and Kasser have delved into how materialism can affect interpersonal relationships.

    Studies by Richins and Dawson have shown how excessive focus on possessions can lead to strained relationships and lower relationship quality. The pursuit of material goods often prioritizes wealth accumulation over emotional fulfillment, which can generate tension between partners.

    In contrast, those less focused on material possessions tend to prioritize experiences and emotional connections, leading to more harmonious relationships. This link between material possessions and relational dynamics underscores the complex interplay between materialism and interpersonal satisfaction.

    Environmental Impact

    The environmental impact of materialism has garnered attention in research, highlighting the intricate connection between consumption patterns, sustainability practices, and the ecological consequences of materialistic behaviors.

    Studies by Ahuvia and Wong delve into how consumer materialism influences ecological behavior. They found that individuals high in materialism tend to exhibit lower environmental awareness, a factor that can shape their consumption choices. Conversely, research by Pieters emphasized that enhancing environmental concern could lead to more sustainable consumption habits, countering the negative effects of materialism.

    Segev et al. further explored the broader implications of materialistic lifestyles on sustainability, demonstrating that excessive consumption driven by materialistic values can escalate resource depletion, waste production, and environmental degradation, posing significant challenges to achieving long-term ecological balance.

    How Can Materialism Be Measured?

    Measuring materialism involves utilizing scales like the Materialism Scale and the Materialistic Attitudes Scale, which offer insights into individuals’ levels of materialistic beliefs, desires, and attitudes towards possessions.

    Costa and McCrae developed the Materialism Scale as part of the NEO Personality Inventory to assess the extent of materialism in individuals. On the other hand, the Materialistic Attitudes Scale, introduced by Miller et al., focuses on measuring attitudes towards material possessions, linking them to self-worth and identity. Researchers like Otero-López and Villardefrancos have used these scales to explore the complexities of materialism across different demographics and cultural contexts.

    Materialism Scale

    The Materialism Scale is a widely used tool in psychological research, comprising multiple components that assess individuals’ materialistic orientations, values, and behaviors for comprehensive analysis.

    Initially developed by Richins and Dawson and further refined by Dittmar et al., this scale delves into various aspects of materialism, including the pursuit of wealth, possessions, and social status. Researchers often utilize it to understand how materialistic attitudes impact consumer behaviors, well-being, and societal trends.

    One of the key strengths of the Materialism Scale lies in its ability to provide a structured assessment framework, enabling researchers to quantify and compare individuals’ levels of materialism objectively. Kasser’s work has highlighted the detrimental effects of excessive materialism on psychological health and environmental sustainability, underscoring the importance of measuring and addressing these attitudes in today’s society.

    Materialistic Attitudes Scale

    The Materialistic Attitudes Scale is designed to capture various dimensions of materialism, assisting researchers in studying the intricate associations between possessions, values, and life priorities among individuals.

    Developed by Hong et al. (2016), the scale measures attitudes towards possessions, acquisition, and attachment, enabling a deeper exploration of materialistic tendencies. It encompasses facets such as ownership, success, and happiness derived from material goods, shedding light on how individuals prioritize material wealth and consumerism in their lives.

    Used extensively in materialism research, Pilch and Górnik-Durose (2017) emphasized the significance of the Materialistic Attitudes Scale in understanding consumer behavior and societal values. By evaluating one’s perceptions of material possessions and their importance, researchers can unravel the intricate connections between personal values, material aspirations, and decision-making processes.”

    Can Materialism Be Changed?

    Changing materialistic attitudes and behaviors is possible through interventions and personal reflection, as suggested by scholars studying the malleability of materialism and its impact on individual well-being and societal values.

    Research by Pieters, Solberg et al., and Shrum et al. delves deep into the intricate relationship between materialism and personal satisfaction, uncovering how excessive focus on material possessions can erode emotional well-being and foster discontentment.

    These scholars highlight the transformative power of self-awareness and mindfulness practices in combating consumeristic mindsets, emphasizing the importance of shifting priorities towards intrinsic values and meaningful experiences for sustainable happiness.

    Through Interventions

    Interventions targeted at reducing materialism have shown promise according to empirical findings, with positive impacts observed on self-esteem, well-being, and values when individuals engage in interventions aimed at altering materialistic attitudes.

    Researchers Segev et al. found that interventions that focus on intrinsic values rather than extrinsic ones have a significant impact on reducing materialistic behaviors.

    Studies by Górnik-Durose and Boroń have highlighted the role of mindfulness practices in enhancing well-being and decreasing materialistic mindsets.

    The work of Ashton and Lee emphasizes the importance of social comparison and the influence of peer groups in shaping materialistic values, indicating that interventions should consider social dynamics when addressing materialism.

    Through Personal Reflection and Mindfulness

    Personal reflection and mindfulness practices offer avenues for individuals to reassess their values, priorities, and happiness sources, facilitating shifts away from materialistic orientations towards more intrinsic and sustainable sources of well-being.

    Studies conducted by Burroughs and Rindfleisch have delved into the psychological aspects of materialism, highlighting how mindfulness can counteract the negative impacts of a consumer-driven society. Roberts and Clement further emphasize how personal reflection can lead to a reevaluation of one’s aspirations and the importance of experiences over possessions. In a similar vein, Ahuvia and Wong’s research showcases the correlation between mindfulness and deeper life satisfaction, suggesting that a focus on internal growth fosters a more enduring sense of fulfillment.

    What Are the Implications of Materialism in Society?

    The implications of materialism in society extend beyond individual well-being to broader societal issues, impacting psychological health, social relationships, and environmental sustainability, prompting discussions on the need for balance between materialistic pursuits and holistic societal welfare.

    Studies by Costa and McCrae and Miller et al. have highlighted the complex relationship between materialism and psychological well-being, suggesting that excessive focus on material possessions can lead to feelings of emptiness and unfulfillment.

    This not only affects individuals but also has ripple effects on social dynamics, as materialistic values often prioritize self-interest over communal well-being, potentially eroding trust and cooperation within communities.

    Otero-López and Villardefrancos have explored how materialistic consumption patterns contribute to environmental degradation, fueling unsustainable resource exploitation and contributing to climate change.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the role of materialism in psychological studies?

    Materialism refers to the belief that material possessions and wealth are the most important factors in one’s life. In psychological studies, materialism is often examined as a personality trait and its impact on individual behavior and well-being.

    How does materialism affect an individual’s behavior?

    Research has shown that individuals with higher levels of materialism tend to exhibit more self-centered and competitive behavior. They also prioritize acquiring material possessions over building relationships and participating in meaningful experiences.

    Can materialism lead to psychological problems?

    Yes, excessive materialism has been linked to a higher risk of developing psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. This is because the pursuit of material possessions can create an endless cycle of wanting more, leading to dissatisfaction and negative emotions.

    Is materialism a learned behavior or a genetic trait?

    Both nature and nurture play a role in the development of materialism. Research suggests that genetic factors can make individuals more prone to materialistic tendencies, but environmental influences, such as consumer culture and advertising, also play a significant role in shaping one’s materialistic beliefs and behaviors.

    What is the impact of materialism on society?

    The emphasis on material possessions and wealth in society has led to a culture of consumerism, where individuals are constantly encouraged to buy more and strive for a higher social status. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and perpetuate social and economic inequalities.

    Can materialism be reduced or managed?

    Yes, it is possible to reduce or manage materialism through various strategies such as practicing gratitude, focusing on experiences rather than possessions, and setting realistic goals and priorities. Seeking support from therapy or counseling can also be beneficial for individuals struggling with excessive materialism.

    Similar Posts