Money may not buy you love, but it won’t break your heart either.
- The link between a poor interpersonal life and materialism has been known for decades, but the exact reason for this connection hasn’t been clear.
- New research shows that two problematic attachment styles can push people towards seeking the love and affection they crave in material wealth.
- The study shows both how broken-hearted people use materialism as a crutch and how this dependency can be reversed.
What makes somebody materialistic? We know what materialism looks like—constantly pursuing luxury, envying others for their success, desiring more possessions, and being greedy. It’s even been shown that materialistic people have worse mental health, a lower sense of well-being, and a general disregard for the environment. But what makes somebody turn out this way is less clear. Could it be genetic? Some result of their upbringing?
New research in the International Journal of Psychology has helped shed light on what it is that makes materialistic people desire physical wealth. Broadly, materialism turns out to be the answer for certain people when they get their hearts broken.
The materialistic and lonely heart
Human beings crave security. That encompasses physical security as well, but what we desire more than most other things is interpersonal security—a sense of being loved, understood, and valued. The first place we get this sense of interpersonal security from is usually our parents.
But not everybody is going to win father or mother of the year. Some parents are cold or neglectful to their children, and, lacking that crucial, initial sense of acceptance, many neglected children grow up to have attachment issues.
Attachment styles come in four major flavors, but this study focused on two problematic forms: attachment anxiety, in which an individual obsessively seeks approval and affection, often in a smothering way that’s impossible to truly measure up to; and attachment avoidance, in which an individual simply avoids attachments with others to avoid getting hurt, fostering instead a (often false) sense of independence from others.
A study by Ying Sun and colleagues from the Beijing Key Laboratory of Experimental Psychology examined the interaction between attachment issues and materialism. Prior research had shown that materialism is frequently associated with having cold or neglectful parents and a shaky interpersonal or social life, so it made sense to test whether attachment issues were the mechanism behind a desire for external, physical wealth.
The researchers’ hypothesis was that after experiencing disappointing relationships, individuals with attachment anxiety would instead focus their overweening love onto something that couldn’t reject them: possessions and wealth. Since individuals with attachment avoidance already avoid all attachments in the first place, Ying Sun believed they would be less materialistic.