Materialism and the Tendency to Worship Celebrities

By Green, Thomas; Griffith, James et al. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Materialism and the Tendency to Worship Celebrities


Green, Thomas, Griffith, James, Aruguete, Mara S., Edman, Jeanne, McCutcheon, Lynn E., North American Journal of Psychology


In the last decade there has been a proliferation of research on persons who are enthralled with celebrities--persons who have been termed "celebrity worshippers." The 23-item Celebrity Attitude Scale (CAS) was developed in an effort to facilitate that line of research. This scale has been shown to have very good reliability (Griffith, Aruguete, Edman, Green, & McCutcheon, 2013) and validity across several studies (see McCutcheon, Maltby, Houran, & Ashe, 2004, for a review). More than two dozen studies using the CAS have appeared in print, and we now know quite a bit about those who admire celebrities. For example, those whose scores indicate that they are absorbed and/or addicted to their favorite celebrity, as reflected in high scores on the Intense-personal and Borderline Pathological subscales, tend to show signs of neuroticism and psychoticism in the context of Eysenck's personality dimensions (Maltby, Houran, & McCutcheon, 2003). Furthermore, the terms "foolish" and "irresponsible" are commonly attributed to celebrity worshippers (McCutcheon & Maltby, 2002). However, there is still much that we do not know about the values of celebrity-worshipers. For example, we do not know how the strength of attitudes toward celebrities relates to values about materialism or envy.

Materialism is described by Richins and Dawson (1992) as the importance that persons attach to their material possessions and the acquisition thereof. They perceive three dimensions of materialism: centrality, by which they mean the extent to which possessions and their acquisition is a central part of a materialist's life; pursuit of happiness, meaning that acquiring possessions is vital to the happiness of a materialist; possession-defined success, meaning that materialists judge the success of themselves and others by the quantity and quality of their possessions. Richins and Dawson developed a scale to measure the strength of these three dimensions, scores on which are combined to yield an overall materialism score.

Envy has been defined by Richins and Dawson (1992) as coveting something belonging to another, and, frequently, "a resentment of the person who possesses the desired objects" (p. 313). They found a positive correlation between scores on an envy subscale developed by Belk (1984) and their own materialism scale. However, the resentment component may be an artifact of the way some of the items were worded on the envy subscale. For example, "People who are very wealthy often feel they are too good to talk to average people," and "When friends have things I cannot afford it bothers me." It seems to us that it is possible to covet things without necessarily resenting those who have them, and that neutral wording of envy items might still yield a positive correlation with a materialism scale. In fact, one of the major themes in a popular book about celebrities and the motivation to become a celebrity is that envy for what celebrities have is not accompanied by resentment toward celebrities. Rather, envy for what celebrities have is accompanied by admiration or worship (Halpern, 2008).

One might ask, "What evidence links the celebrity worshiper with those who place a high value on materialism?" Pick up a popular magazine or turn on the television and you will find a never-ending parade of famous, beautiful people trying to sell something (Gill, 2003). It is easy to get the impression that the celebrities who endorse expensive products probably use them. Further, the entertainment media sometimes interview celebrities in their million-dollar homes. The underlying message seems to be, "Wouldn't you like to have the wonderful possessions that this celebrity owns?" If the media have promoted materialism, then we would expect to find a positive correlation between amount of television viewing and the extent to which persons endorse materialistic values. In fact some studies show weak positive correlations between the two (see Shrum, Lee, Burroughs & Rindfleisch, 2011, for a brief review), but one found a correlation of . …

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