Sad shoppers are getting sadder.
Findings from a new study show when we're feeling blue and socially isolated, we shop. Shopping, meanwhile, makes us even more depressed and alone. To fix it, we shop—and the vicious cycle continues.
But there's hope. It turns out there are three types of materialists in this world—and for one of them, shopping is a "virtuous" cycle that actually decreases loneliness over time.
For the study, a sample of more than 2,500 consumers over six years were asked how much they agreed with statements, such as: "It sometimes bothers me quite a bit that I can't afford to buy all the things I like," and "I enjoy buying things that are not practical." Study author Rik Pieters, a marketing professor at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands, then placed the shoppers in different materialist buckets and tested them for loneliness.
After poring over the questionnaires and running the numbers through a series of formulas, the evidence showed that over time, and regardless of income, materialism was associated with an increase in loneliness, and loneliness was associated with an increase in materialism.
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Materialists aren't created equal
"Relationships can be hard. People can say no, but an iPad can't," Pieters told NBC News. While research indicates that when we're lonely our first impulse is to reconnect with others, it's often easier to go shopping.
Pieters was drawn to the topic because links between materialism and loneliness are so culturally ingrained that we accept them at face value, but the phenomenon has never been studied. The research that has been done on materialism—defined as the importance that people attach to acquiring and owning material possessions—has treated consumers as one lump.
But not all materialists are created equal.
One of the three types of shoppers Pieters identified uses shopping as a medicine to feel differently. Shopping is a drug that gives them a fix when they're down or turns feeling normal into a buzz.
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Another type of materialist shops as a means of social comparison. They agree with statements like "I admire people who own expensive things" and "It's important to have lots of things in life."