The Situationist

The Costs of Living in a Material World

Posted by Adam Benforado on April 11, 2012

Are “material girls” born or bred?

In four new experiments, Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen and his colleagues Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim shed some light on this question.

Here is the abstract of the paper, forthcoming in Psychological Science:

Correlational evidence indicates that materialistic individuals experience relatively low levels of well-being. Across four experiments, we found that situational cuing can also trigger materialistic mind-sets, with similarly negative personal and social consequences. Merely viewing desirable consumer goods resulted in increases in materialistic concerns and led to heightened negative affect and reduced social involvement (Experiment 1). Framing a computer task as a “Consumer Reaction Study” led to a stronger automatic bias toward values reflecting self-enhancement, compared with framing the same task as a “Citizen Reaction Study” (Experiment 2). Consumer cues also increased competitiveness (Experiment 3) and selfishness in a water-conservation dilemma (Experiment 4). Thus, the costs of materialism are not localized only in particularly materialistic people, but can also be found in individuals who happen to be exposed to environmental cues that activate consumerism-cues that are commonplace in contemporary society.

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