Materialism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality: A Facet-Level Analysis

By Watson, David C. | North American Journal of Psychology, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Materialism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality: A Facet-Level Analysis


Watson, David C., North American Journal of Psychology


According to Kasser, Ryan, Couchman and Sheldon (2004), materialistic value orientation (MVO) is the belief that it is important to acquire money and material possessions. As an individual difference characteristic, materialism has been viewed as either a personality trait or as a set of values. Belk (1984; 1985) has conceptualized materialism as a personality trait composed of envy, non-generosity, and possessiveness.

Belk (1984) selected these three characteristics out of many possible traits because "... they represent distinct and significant expressions of man's relationship to material objects. They represent, respectively, our affiliation with these objects, our willingness to give or share the objects in our possession, and our feelings about the objects in others' possession. "(p. 292). According to Belk (1985), possessiveness is ".the inclination and tendency to retain control or ownership of one's possessions ..." (Belk, 1985, p. 267). Belk defines non-generosity as " ... an unwillingness to give possessions or share possessions with others ..." Belk (p. 268), and refers to Schoeck's (1966) definition of envy "... displeasure and ill will at the superiority of [another person] in happiness, success, reputation, or the possession of anything desirable ..." (p. 13). Envy is distinguished from jealousy as the latter "... refers to the belief that a desired relationship is in danger of being lost ..." (Salovey & Rodin, 1984, p. 780).

Richins and Dawson (1992) define materialism in terms of the values of centrality, happiness and success. Centrality refers to the tendency of materialistic individuals to focus their life-style around acquisition and consumption. Happiness is one of the driving forces behind centrality, as the materialistic person believes that acquisition is the path to well-being and overall life satisfaction. Lastly, success in life is defined by an individual's level of material acquisition (Richins & Dawson, p. 304).

Origins of Trait and Value-based Materialism

These two types of materialism may emerge from either deprivation experiences or cultural influences (Ahuvia & Wong, 2002; Kasser et al., 2004). With deprivation experiences, the individual feels disadvantaged during development and embraces materialistic values as an attempt at compensation (Inglehart, 1990). With cultural influences, the socialization process encourages and models a set of materialistic values, which become internalized (Kasser et al., 2004). Ahuvia and Wong describe these deprivation experiences as felt formative influences "... feelings of economic insecurity ..." (p. 391). Therefore, materialism develops out of feelings of deprivation rather than actual economic deprivation. With materialism development, Ahuvia and Wong distinguish the value based materialism of Richins and Dawson (1992) with the personality based materialism of Belk (1984). Felt formative deprivation was found to be related to personality materialism but not to personal values materialism. Personal values materialism was found to be related to cultural influences or "formative social milieu" (Ahuvia & Wong, p. 392). Personality materialism was found to be related to both formative social milieu and felt formative deprivations (Ahuvia & Wong). As both cultural influences and feelings of deprivation are involved in the development of materialism, it is important to investigate both of these types of materialism.

Materialism and the Five-Factor Model of Personality

Previous research has indicated that the main personality correlates of materialism are high neuroticism and low agreeableness. Sharpe (2000, p.88) hypothesized a relationship with neuroticism such that materialists are generally not satisfied with life and show low agreeableness due to a more self-centered, competitive orientation (p.89). Sharpe and Ramanaiah (1999) found that individuals scoring higher on the Belk (1985) Materialism Scale were higher on neuroticism and lower on agreeableness compared to the low materialism group. …

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