Two online surveys of psychology students explored the relationship between psychological flexibility, materialism, non-attachment and buying motivation. Results showed that people high on psychological flexibility also tended to value the pursuit of money and possessions less and to be less attached to experiences, thoughts, or relationships. The paper was published in Personality and Individual Differences.
Psychological flexibility refers to an individual’s ability to respond to challenges in a way that alters the consequences of such experiences. Higher psychological flexibility is associated with higher well-being. Increasing psychological well-being is often the desirable outcome of psychotherapy.
Psychological theory sees psychological flexibility as consisting of a set of psychological processes that can take a healthy and an unhealthy form. In this way, psychological flexibility and psychological inflexibility can be seen as two separate psychological properties and not just as two ends of a single dimension of individual differences. Psychological flexibility is thus the result of healthy forms of these processes, while psychological inflexibility is the result of unhealthy forms.
David C. Watson and Andrew J. Howell wanted to study how psychological flexibility and inflexibility is related to some of the other aspects of healthy or less healthy psychological functioning. They chose to examine the associations with materialism, “a set of personality traits whereby an individual is possessive of material objects or money, ungenerous with material things, and envious of the possessions of others” and non-attachment, “the reduced tendency to either attach to or move away from experiences, thoughts, or relationships based on whether they are positive or negative.”
In the second study, they explored the association with buying motivation as another correlate of materialism. Namely, they examined whether psychological flexibility/inflexibility is related to “the preference for experiential versus materialistic purchases” and “the presence of autonomous relative to heteronomous motivation for such experiential purchases.”
The researchers explained that “experiential purchases are those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience: an event or series of events that one lives through. Material purchases are those made with the primary intention of acquiring a material good: a tangible object that is kept in one’s possession…”
In the scope of the first study, the researchers surveyed 313 undergraduate students of an introductory psychology course at a Canadian university. Students completed an assessment of psychological flexibility, specific aspects of materialism (possessiveness, non-generosity and envy through the Belk Materialism Scale; values of material and economic rewards, prosperity, control and economic security through the Revised Materialism-Post Materialism Scale), overall materialism, and Non-Attachment.
In the scope of the second study, the researchers surveyed 307 undergraduate students. In addition to the assessment of psychological flexibility/inflexibility, these students completed an assessment of three components of experiential buying – autonomous motivation, heteronomous motivation, and amotivation. Autonomous motivation for purchases means buying something because the person endorses the reasons for the purchase, while heteronomous buying motivation means that the person is buying something for reasons that are externally controlled (e.g., because of the expectations of others).
The results revealed associations between psychological inflexibility, high materialism, and attachment, and between psychological flexibility, low materialism, and non-attachment. The researchers propose that the link between psychological flexibility and materialism is achieved through non-attachment. The second study showed that “psychological flexibility was correlated with both experiential buying and autonomous reasons for experiential buying, whereas inflexibility was related to controlled and amotivated reasons for experiential buying.”
“Together these studies provide novel evidence of the relevance of psychological flexibility/inflexibility to predicting people’s tendency toward materialism, material versus experiential buying, and autonomous versus non-autonomous reasons for experiential buying,” the authors concluded.
The study adds to the knowledge about the correlates of psychological flexibility. However, it should be taken into account that both studies were done exclusively on students of introductory psychology courses at a single university. Results on other populations might not be the same. Additionally, the study design does not allow making any cause-and-effect conclusions from the study data.
The study, “Psychological flexibility, non-attachment, and materialism”, was authored by David C. Watson, Andrew J. Howell.