Loneliness and materialism are linked: the loneliest people tend to consider purchasing as an entertainment, at the expense of social interactions. And as consuming is considered negative, consuming more to compensate loneliness can encourage risky behaviors or illegal activities.
However , we , aka the authors of the study, were convinced that there can be situations when loneliness does not have a negative impact. This is why we decided to investigate the strategies teenagers use to struggle against loneliness, in order to qualify their harmful effects.
Against loneliness: active and passive strategies
We observed how different individuals are facing loneliness. Some people use active strategies to try and resolve their problems directly. For example, when they feel lonely, one can try to get in touch with others and to show one’s best.
One way to achieve that goal is sharing, for example clothes or music. The passive strategies, such as purchase acts, do not enable people to resolve directly their problem, but are a source of entertainment or are substitutes to a lack of social interaction. Unfortunately, these so called “passive” strategies are not helping to remove the feeling of loneliness.
Sharing as a form of materialism
We wanted to know if there was a correlation between active as well as passive strategies to struggle against loneliness, and two types of materialism: sharing and buying. Linking sharing to materialism is unusual, but here we considered that this is a way of using products in order to cope with threats against one’s identity.
In order to determine if these correlations are real, our team created a survey aiming to measure active and passive strategies, sharing, purchasing, and the moral beliefs of the people answering it. 406 French teenagers answered the survey. The data collected was then analyzed, using a scoring method and a model based on structural equations.
Sharing relieves loneliness
At first, we noticed that lonely people are using both active and passive strategies, non exclusively. We then had to identify the main trends in the answers to the survey.
We noticed that people using passive strategies are purchasing more and sharing less. On the contrary, people using active strategies share more and purchase less.
Passive strategies and unhealthy behaviors
Then we studied the strategies to struggle against loneliness and the way these strategies go along with healthy behaviors, contrary to unhealthy ones. Strong correlations appeared.
People who were more focused on sharing behaved in a less risky way. On the contrary, the ones who overcame their loneliness through purchase acts show more unhealthy habits (such as smoking, drinking alcohol or even illegal activities).
Materialism is often seen as negative, but this study shows that there is a positive way to be materialistic. Becoming materialistic through sharing actually enables the sharer to feel happier and to be less inclined to risky behaviors.
We are convinced that this work is crucial regarding the public interest and could have an important impact. Recommendations could be given so that teachers and parents are more informed on loneliness clues, more particularly the ones highlighted by purchase acts. Measures could also be taken in order to relieve loneliness, so that children and teenagers may be less subject to risky behaviors.
This text is based on the academic article « Coping with loneliness through materialism : strategies matter for adolescent development of unethical behaviors » (Journal of Business Ethics, 2017), written by L.J. Shrum, Tina Lowrey, Elodie Gentina.
This article is published in partnership with Knowledge@Hec.
Methodology: Élodie Gentina, L.J. Shrum and Tina Lowrey created a survey completed by 409 teenagers (223 girls and 186 boys), from a suburban area in the North of France. Then they analyzed the data collected using a model based on structural equations. The analysis showed a correlation between the way people (who answered the survey) act towards loneliness, in an active or passive way, and their tendency to have risky behaviors, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. People who face their loneliness using active strategies, such as sharing, are less prone to have unhealthy behaviors. On the opposite, people who struggle loneliness using passive strategies, as purchasing, are more subject to risky behaviors.
The original version of this article (in french) was published on The Conversation by L. J. Shrum, Professor in marketing, HEC School of Management – Université Paris-Saclay and Tina Lowrey, Professor in marketing, HEC School of Management – Université Paris-Saclay.