Many believe that eyes are windows to the soul—but I argue that our social media accounts are far more telling. With one quick scroll through Instagram or Facebook, you can gain knowledge of one’s interests, occupation, social circle, self-confidence, and motivations. And that’s just from sorting through their pictures, their subsequent captions, and their statuses. Now, what if we took it one further by taking a gander at their friends and followers? Well, we might be able to add their materialistic tendencies to the list.

A new study “Materialists on Facebook: the self-regulatory role of social comparisons and the objectification of Facebook friends” shows that materialists tend to have more Facebook friends than those who aren’t so concerned with material possessions. Furthermore, materialistic individuals see their Facebook friends and social media followers as “digital objects” and seek to obtain more to increase their “digital possessions.”

While many individuals primarily use Facebook as a means for staying in touch with distant family and friends, this paper says that materialistic individuals instead use it to compare themselves with other Facebook users and to feel better about themselves. “Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends—they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession,” explained Phillip Ozimek. “Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it’s free—materialists love tools that don’t cost money!”

To reach these findings, the research team first sent out an online questionnaire to a sample of 242 Facebook users, which asked subjects to rate their agreement with different statements such as, “I often compare myself to others on social media,” “Having more Facebook friends makes me feel better about myself,” and, “My life would improve if I had more things.” Their responses to questions of the like helped the researchers gauge the participants’ Facebook activity, social comparison orientation, materialism, and objectification of Facebook friends. And it was revealed that that there was, indeed, a link between materialism and Facebook activity such that materialists had more Facebook friends, displayed stronger social comparison orientation, and objectified their friends.

The researchers then administered the same questionnaire to another 289 Facebook users, only this time there were fewer students and more male participants—but despite this change in demographics, analysis of questionnaire responses yielded the same results. The team then created a Social Online Self-Regulation Theory, based on these findings, which says that social media is a tool we use to achieve important life goals. And for materialistic individuals, Facebook is used to gauge wealth.

While the initial idea that materialists view their Facebook friends as “digital objects” isn’t a very pleasant one, the research team says that we shouldn’t necessarily perceive it negatively: “Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life—they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society,” said Ozimek. “We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person.”

Sources:
Elsevier (2017, November 25). Materialists Collect Facebook Friends and Spend More Time on Social Media. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved November 25, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/materialist-facebook-friends-8030/

Ozimek P., Baer F., & Forster J. (2017, November). Materialists on Facebook: the self-regulatory role of social comparisons and the objectification of Facebook friends. Heliyon. Retrieved November 27, 2017 from http://www.heliyon.com/article/e00449

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