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Loneliness or Greed: Which One Comes First?

Update Date: Jul 26, 2013 04:22 PM EDT

Was Ebenezer Scrooge lonely because he was materialistic or greedy because he was an outcast?

New research suggests that it may have been the latter.  While loneliness often causes materialism, a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the opposite may not be true.

A new study that included more than 2,500 consumers over a period of six years found that loneliness could sometimes lead to materialism.  However, while materialism sometimes caused loneliness, the findings revealed that it can also decrease loneliness.

"It is widely believed that there is a vicious cycle in which loneliness leads to materialism and materialism in turn contributes to loneliness. But, contrary to popular beliefs about the universal perils of materialism, the pursuit of material possessions as part of a lifestyle of 'happy hedonism' may not actually be detrimental to consumer well-being when kept within certain limits," lead researcher Rik Pieters of Tilburg University wrote in the study.

Researchers found that loneliness increased over time for consumers who valued material possessions as a measure of success or a type of "happiness medicine," but decreased for those who sought possessions just for the sheer joy and fun of consumption.

The findings also revealed that single people were lonelier than other consumers.  Researchers explained that singles sought material possessions less for the pleasure of acquiring and owning them and more as a type of "material medicine". Furthermore, researchers found that men were more likely to perceive possessions as a measure of success in life and as "material medicine". On the other hand, women were more likely to view possessions as a source of "material mirth".

Researchers said the findings suggest that materialism does not always lead to a vicious cycle in which shopping makes consumers lonelier. In fact, researchers say that materialism can actually benefit those who acquire possessions solely for pleasure and comfort.   

"While materialism can increase loneliness, it may actually reduce loneliness for some consumers. Increasing opportunities for social interaction and improving social skills may be more effective at reducing loneliness than the usual appeals to turn off the television or stop shopping," Pieters concluded.

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