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Dr. Ayalla Ruvio, Michigan State University – Materialism, Stress, and Consumerism

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Ayalla Ruvio of Michigan State University explains the relationship between stress and compulsive shopping. 

Ayalla Ruvio is an assistant professor of marketing at Michigan State University.  As an applied consumer behavior researcher, her work focuses on issues such as consumers' decision making regarding new products, identity and consumption, and cross-cultural consumer behavior. Her research has been published in a number of refereed journals and she is co-author of the book Identity and Consumption.

About Dr. Ruvio

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Dr. Ayalla Ruvio – Materialism, Stress, and Consumerism

Materialism is considered a vice in modern Western society. Research on materialism has provided overwhelming empirical evidence for its detrimental effect on our lives, suggesting that materialistic individuals pay a high premium for their preference of material possessions. As such, highly materialistic people have lower levels of happiness, well-being, life satisfaction and higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. However, a new study suggests that the relationship between materialism and stress may be even more harmful than commonly thought.

This study compared 139 citizens from a southern Israeli town under extreme rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip for about six months during 2007, and 170 residents from another Israeli town that was not under attack. The results revealed that materialism has an amplifying effect on the way individuals react to traumatic stress. Highly materialistic people, when faced with a mortal threat, reported much higher levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and higher levels of impulsive and compulsive buying compared to their less materialistic counterparts.

These effects were then replicated using 855 U.S. residents who were asked about their materialistic nature and fear of death. The findings from this study suggest that materialism’s intensifying effect on extreme stress may be driven by a global response to fear of death and by individuals’ low self-esteem, which reduces their ability to cope with such events.

Taken together, the results indicate that when facing a stressful event, materialistic people will experience high level of stress and will try to cope with it, unsuccessfully, using maladaptive consumption behaviors which are harmful by nature. In other words, materialism makes bad situations even worse!  

These results may extend to a wide variety of contexts, as post-traumatic stress arises from a host of events such as car accidents, criminal attacks and natural disasters. Future research should address the relationship between stress and materialism in different contexts.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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