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Chronic Self-Doubters Tend To Be More Materialistic

"For those people who are chronically insecure, materialism seems to be a coping mechanism that they use when they are put in a situation that makes them doubtful about themselves," Arkin said.

"Chronic self-doubters are not interested in possessions because they bring happiness or because they simply like owning a lot of things," Arkin said. "They are interested in possessions because of their meaning, the status they confer. They believe their possessions demonstrate success."

But whether a person suffers from anomie or self-doubt, Arkin said materialism is a poor coping mechanism. Other studies have shown that a materialistic orientation to life is linked with poor psychological functioning and lower life satisfaction.

I think advertisers have known this for years. They play on people's insecurities (such as their penis size, to take a common example), and offer their product as a solution. For another example, take the most recent Dell commercial, in which Annoying Guy's nerdy roommate wins a trip to Paris because his mom bought him a Dell. The viewer identifies with the nerdy roomate, both because having a computer is still a slightly nerdy thing, and because Annoying Guy is presented as so archetypally cool that he's beyond most people's abilities. The commercial then reassures us, by showing Annoying Guy trying to help out his nerdy roommate. Finally, he succeeds -- through the magic of Dell, of course. The Dell giveaway is especially relevant because it's something you win -- which means it can be both a huge gain, and a stamp of specialness because so few people win.

But because material gain can't assuage insecurity, the cycle snowballs. Insecurity planted now will still be there for the next round of advertising. And it can ultimately create a habit of looking to material things for satisfaction, rather than pushing people to see how unsatisfying *stuff* proves to be.


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