Chronic Self-Doubters More Materialistic
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CHRONIC SELF-DOUBTERS TEND TO BE MORE MATERIALISTIC, STUDY SHOWS
Ohio State University
August 7, 2002
COLUMBUS, Ohio - People with chronic self-doubt may be more likely than
others to define personal success by having the biggest house on the block
or a new luxury car.
A new study found that people with enduring feelings of self-doubt scored
higher than others on a measure of materialism -- the tendency to value
monetary success and material possessions over other goals in life.
Specifically, they were more likely to believe that success was defined by
what a person owns.
"Feelings of self-doubt can send people looking for meaning in their lives,
with a goal toward boosting their self-worth," said Robert Arkin, co-author
of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
"If they aren't deriving a sense of self-worth from other parts of their
lives, they may feel that owning a lot of things proves they are
Arkin conducted the study with LinChiat Chang, a graduate student in
psychology at Ohio State. The study was published in a recent issue of the
journal Psychology & Marketing.
Arkin said research in countries around the world show that people tend to
believe that materialism is a weakness of insecure people who doubt their
However, he said there has not been much evidence to confirm that.
In one study, Arkin and Chang had 416 undergraduate students complete a
variety of measures that examined their levels of self-doubt, several forms
of materialism, and other psychological traits.
The results showed that people who were chronic self-doubters scored higher
in materialism. In particular, they scored higher on a measure of
materialism in which people define success in terms of what they own. For
example, they were more likely to agree with statements such as "I like to
own things that impress people" and "The things I own say a lot about how
well I'm doing in life."
The link between self-doubt and materialism was confirmed in a second study
that found that inducing feelings of self doubt could increase materialistic
tendencies in those with chronic self-doubt.
This study involved 95 undergraduates -- half who scored high in chronic
self-doubt and half who scored low.
Participants were asked to memorize words by relating these words to their
own personality and experiences. Half the subjects memorized self-doubt
words (insecure, doubtful, uncertain, etc.) while the other half memorized
words unrelated to self-doubt (inside, double, unicorn, etc.). Prior studies
have shown that this technique increases feelings of insecurity in those who
memorize doubt-related words. In this study, participants were asked about
their current state of mind regarding materialism, rather than their
Results showed that when participants memorized doubt-related words, those
who scored higher on chronic self-doubt showed significantly higher levels
of current materialism than those who did not have chronic self-doubt.
But among those who memorized the unrelated words, there was no difference
in immediate feelings of materialism between the chronic self-doubters and
the confident participants.
"For those people who are chronically insecure, materialism seems to be a
coping mechanism that they use when they are put in a situation that makes
them doubtful about themselves," Arkin said.
Arkin said it is noteworthy that self-doubters score high on a type of
materialism that equates possessions with success.
"Chronic self-doubters are not interested in possessions because they bring
happiness or because they simply like owning a lot of things," Arkin said.
"They are interested in possessions because of their meaning, the status
they confer. They believe their possessions demonstrate success."
That's why materialism can be seen as a coping response for people who are
uncertain about their identity, he said.
The results also showed that materialism is related to another type of
uncertainty -- anomie. While chronic self-doubters tend to be uncertain
about their own abilities and identity, those who score high in anomie tend
to feel uncertainty related to their society and culture. They tend to feel
rootless and believe society lacks clear guidelines for behavior.
But whether a person suffers from anomie or self-doubt, Arkin said
materialism is a poor coping mechanism. Other studies have shown that a
materialistic orientation to life is linked with poor psychological
functioning and lower life satisfaction.
"The cycle of materialistic pursuits is disappointing and exhausting in the
long run and can make people perpetually unhappy," Arkin said.
It is better to find other goals in life and find areas where one can excel
without resorting to material possessions as proof of success, he said.
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