Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

A Model of the Materialistic Self

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

A Model of the Materialistic Self

Article excerpt

Materialism has been defined as "... the devotion to acquisition and possession ..." (Tatzel, 2002, p.110). Theoretically, materialism has been viewed either as a set of values consisting of success, centrality, and happiness (Richins & Dawson, 1992) or as a trait consisting of possessiveness, non-generosity and envy (Belk, 1984, 1985). Subjective well-being has been found to be lower in highly materialistic individuals compared to those that are less materialistic (e.g., Belk, 1985; Burroughs & Rindfleisch, 2002; Kashdan & Breen, 2007; Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002; Kasser & Ryan, 1993). One possible reason for lower subjective well-being is that there are social drawbacks to the pursuit of materialistic goals. This is likely to have consequences for the self, since materialistic individuals are stigmatized as being "less likable," and they have less desirable personality qualities, such as being self-centered, selfish, manipulative, and externally oriented (Van Boven, Campbell & Gilovich, 2010, p. 551).

While the relationship between materialism and low subjective well-being has been established, there are only a few studies examining the relationship between materialism and the self (e.g., Belk, 1988; Chang & Arkin, 2002; Gao, Wheeler & Shiv, 2009; Kashdan & Breen, 2007; Tian & Belk, 2005). These studies have found that the materialistic self is external and fragile; however, why materialism can impact the self in this manner requires further investigation. Self-concept clarity, self-efficacy, locus of control and self-monitoring are four important self-related concepts that are likely to be related to both externality and fragility of the self in materialism. The present study investigated the question of why the materialistic self is external and fragile.

Defining the self

While there are a variety of definitions of the self, one possible definition of the self provided by Campbell et al. (1996) may have particular relevance to materialism: ".the self-concept is defined as a cognitive schema--an organized knowledge structure that contains traits, values, episodic and semantic memories about the self and controls the processing of self-relevant information" (p. 141). This conception of the self is consistent with the notion that experiential purchases (e.g. travel, restaurant meals, theater tickets) become part of an individual's memories and hence part of one's self-concept compared to the purchase of physical objects which are inherently external (Carter & Gilovich, 2102). Therefore, it is possible that the highly materialistic individual is less likely to develop a strong sense of self as the emphasis is upon acquiring status- enhancing objects rather than experiences that will form the fabric of a strong internalized sense of self.

Materialism and an Extrinsic Self

The extrinsic nature of materialistic goals is a possible reason for the lack of happiness found with highly materialistic individuals (Kasser, 2002, Sheldon & Kasser, 2008). Extrinsic goals are satisfying in terms of how they create admiration in others rather than satisfying inherent psychological needs (Kasser & Ryan, 2001). In a study involving 15 cultures, Grouzet et al., (2005) found that a goal of financial success was related to an extrinsic orientation, which brings the focus onto the physical self rather than a more spiritual, self-transcendent self.

Kashdan and Breen (2007) have related materialism to self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000), which also makes the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals are directed towards pursuits such as personal development or enhancing personal relationships. Extrinsic goals are focused on the attainment of popularity, money or physical attractiveness. Kashdan and Breen (2007) describe the materialistic 'self' as an externalized self, whereby a positive view of the self is "contingent on possessions, money, power, and image" (p. …

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