New research published in The Journal of Psychology finds that increased utilization of internet-based social networks results in increased upward social comparison, subsequently increasing materialism. However, these effects decreased depending on how mindful the subject tended to be and how high their self-esteem. This research provides clues as to what interventions may reduce the negative consequences of social media.
Internet access and smartphones have penetrated most cultures around the world. Adolescents and young children often have access to smartphones. Moreover, social media sites are often spaces where individuals share curated glimpses of their daily life. The research team of Yu-Ting Hu and colleagues investigated the consequences of exposure to wealthy lifestyles on social media and mindfulness on materialism.
The researchers hypothesized that exposure to social media in adolescents prompts upward social comparison, which leads to materialism. Upward social comparison occurs when you observe or interact with individuals with more economic resources and compare yourselves against them.
The researchers defined materialism as “value orientation in which materialists attach great importance to acquiring money and other material possessions as a means to achieve important life goals or desired states (Richins, 2017; Richins & Dawson, 1992).
Mindfulness was defined as the capacity to focus on the present moment rather than thinking of the past or present. Self-esteem was also measured as a factor in upward social comparison. All assessments were taken in classrooms using paper and pencil, proctored by psychology students from local colleges.
Participants were between the ages of 12 and 18 and were recruited from Chinese secondary schools. Eight hundred eighty students, evenly split between male and female, agreed to participate. Subjects took measures of upward social comparison, materialism, self-esteem, and mindfulness.
Statistical data analysis found that as upward social comparison increased, materialism increased, and self-esteem and mindfulness decreased. In addition, higher scores on the measure of self-esteem were related to higher scores of mindfulness and lower scores of materialism. These findings indicate that both self-esteem and mindfulness may be beneficial tools in fighting materialism due to social media.
The research team acknowledges some limitations to their study. First, the cross-sectional design prevents cause-and-effect conclusions. Second, the data were collected using self-report, which may make the data less reliable. Third, the operational definition of mindfulness utilized in the study is less complex than a more multi-dimensional definition of mindfulness that has been used in other studies.
These concerns do not diminish the data collected in the study. The research team concludes with, “Our study constructed a moderated mediation model to examine whether self-esteem and mindfulness matter for the association between upward social comparison on SNSs and adolescent materialism. The results found that both self-esteem and mindfulness played critical roles. Self-esteem was a mediator that linked upward social comparison on SNSs to adolescent materialism. Mindfulness was a moderator buffering the direct association between upward social comparison on SNSs and materialism and the indirect association via self-esteem.”
The study, “Does Upward Social Comparison on SNS Inspire Adolescent Materialism? Focusing on the Role of Self-Esteem and Mindfulness”, was authored by Yu-Ting Hu, Qing-Qi Liu and Zhen-Feng Ma