Why Materialists Flock to Facebook

If you use social media regularly, you probably know that there there are good sides and bad sides that come with the level of hyperconnectedness that sites like Facebook make possible.

On one hand, Facebook has the capability to bring people together more easily than ever before and to keep you in touch with people from your life who otherwise would’ve fallen off your radar. On the other hand, there can be a psychological dark side to the task of curating an online representation of yourself and comparing it to online representations curated by other people.

A lot of psychology research has focused on this dark side of Facebook because it is more paradoxical, complex, and maybe even more interesting. We’re just starting to understand how a new form of connection can also lead to new forms of disconnection.

But our understanding is growing little by little. A recent example comes from a study by researchers at Ruhr-University of Bochum in Germany. The study looked at whether people who had more materialistic tendencies were more drawn to Facebook – and if so, why.

Intuitively, you might have a feeling that people who are more focused on material symbols of social prestige might also enjoy logging into Facebook, and you’d be right. Besides finding a link between materialism and Facebook usage, the study discovered three traits that helped explain this association between the two.

First, materialists tended to compare themselves to others more frequently. And it’s not hard to see that Facebook is a dream for people who like drawing comparisons between themselves and other people.

Second, materialists had a tendency to objectify other people and to use them as means toward ends. Once again, Facebook is clearly a good fit for those who view other people more as objects.

Finally, it turned out that besides having an inclination toward accumulating material possessions, materialists also were more into accumulating friends as well. And again, when it comes to collecting friends, Facebook fits the bill.

Of course, none of this is to say that everyone who uses Facebook is highly materialistic or that Facebook is all bad. Clearly, people log onto social media for all kinds of different reasons. What this research tells us, though, is that it’s probably not uncommon for those reasons to include comparing one’s self to others, objectifying other people and “accumulating” friends.

Image: Flickr/Esther Vargas