BOCHUM, Germany — Materialistic people yearn more than fancy clothing or the latest trendy tech gadgets, a new study finds. They also show a tendency for collecting friends on social media.
Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany had 242 Facebook users complete an online questionnaire, in which participants were asked to evaluate the extent to which they were active on the network, along with how often they compared themselves to peers, engaged in materialistic behaviors, objectified their Facebook friends (i.e., thought of them as tools to increased personal and professional success), and thought their online friends were instrumental to their overall goals.
Using the data gathered, the researchers concluded that those who had materialistic tendencies spend more time on social media and had more Facebook friends than their peers, which could be both explained by their tendency to compare themselves to others, and their tendency to objectify and “instrumentalize” their friends more intensely.
A second experiment using a sample of 289 Facebookers that differed slightly in demographic found nearly identical results.
The researchers propose that for many materialistic individuals, social media accomplishments may become a proxy of sorts for success, should it not yet have manifested financially.
“Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends— they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession,” says lead author Phillip Ozimek in a press release. “Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free— materialists love tools that do not cost money!”
Despite these eye-opening findings, Ozimek and his team emphasize that social media use in itself doesn’t necessarily lead to negative consequences, particularly if it’s used in a constructive manner.
“Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life— they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” Ozimek explains. “We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a neutral perspective on social media.”
Ozimek et al. published their findings in the Nov. 20th edition of the journal Heliyon.