Materialism and loneliness: Is there really a vicious cycle?

July 26, 2013

Despite being much-maligned, materialism is not always bad for consumers.

Loneliness may cause , but the opposite is not necessarily true, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"It is widely believed that there is a vicious cycle in which leads to materialism and materialism in turn contributes to loneliness. But, contrary to popular beliefs about the universal perils of materialism, the pursuit of as part of a lifestyle of 'happy hedonism' may not actually be detrimental to consumer well-being when kept within certain limits," writes author Rik Pieters (Tilburg University).

The author studied more than 2,500 consumers over a period of six years and found that loneliness was likely to lead to materialism. However, while materialism sometimes caused loneliness, it could also decrease loneliness. Loneliness increased over time for consumers who valued material possessions as a measure of success or a type of " medicine," but decreased for those who sought possessions just for the sheer joy and fun of consumption.

The study also found that singles were lonelier than other consumers. Singles pursued material possessions less for the pleasure of acquiring and owning them and more as a type of "material medicine." In addition, men were more likely to view possessions as a measure of success in life and as a material medicine, whereas women viewed possessions more as a source of "material mirth."

Materialism does not necessarily lead to a in which shopping makes consumers lonelier. While materialism can be bad for consumers who seek meaning or status through their possessions, it can actually benefit consumers who acquire possessions solely for pleasure and comfort. In other words, materialism may not entirely deserve its bad reputation.

"While materialism can increase loneliness, it may actually reduce loneliness for some consumers. Increasing opportunities for social interaction and improving social skills may be more effective at reducing loneliness than the usual appeals to turn off the television or stop shopping," the author concludes.

Explore further: Counteracting teens' logo lust: Supportive parents can reduce materialism in teens

More information: Rik Pieters. "Bidirectional Dynamics of Materialism and Loneliness: Not Just a Vicious Cycle." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2013.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.