The price we pay for consumerism

Those primed to materialism are more competitive, more depressed and less sociable—they don't feel like investing their time in pro-social activities like working for a good cause

Women loaded with stuff
Those who are materialistic pay a heavy emotional price for their attitudes

Having a materialistic mindset may fill your house. But you run the risk of feeling empty inside you. A study conducted by psychologists from Northwestern University Galen V. Bodenhausen, Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim that appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science has found that those who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not.

“We found that irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement,” says Galen V. Bodenhausen.

Study participants who were exposed to images of luxury goods such as cars, electronics, and jewelry or words mobilizing consumerist values [versus neutral scenes devoid of consumer products or words without such connotations] rated themselves higher in depression and anxiety, less interested in social activities like parties, and more in solitary pursuits than the others. Those primed to materialism by exposure to certain words evinced more competitiveness and less desire to invest their time in pro-social activities like working for a good cause.

In two other experiments, participants completed tasks that were framed as surveys—one of consumer responses, another of citizens. It was found that the “consumers” rated themselves as less trusting of others, less personally responsible and less in partnership with the others in dealing with the crisis. The consumer status, the authors concluded “did not unite; it divided.”

We can also take personal initiative to reduce the depressive, isolating effects of a materialist mindset by avoiding its stimulants—most obviously, advertising. One method: “Watch less TV.”

Psychological Science

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