Research published in Personality and Individual Differences reveals a fascinating tie between individuals with anxious attachment styles and their tendency to indulge in status-signaling consumption — a behavior significantly brought on by materialistic values. This new research offers insights into the relationship between psychological attachment styles and consumer behavior.
Attachment theory, a cornerstone concept in psychology, explains how early life interactions with caregivers shape our adult relationships. This theory identifies three primary attachment styles: secure, anxious, and avoidant. Avoidant attachment is marked by a dismissal of relational needs and a focus on self-reliance. Secure attachment is characterized by trust and confidence in relationships, and contrasts sharply with anxious attachment —where individuals crave closeness and reassurance, often leading to relationship challenges.
While previous studies have delved into how these attachment styles influence various behaviors, including consumer choices, the specific connection between these styles, particularly anxious attachment, materialism, and status consumption — or, the ways in which people strive to improve their social standing through a pronounced consumption of products — remained underexplored.
The curiosity driving this study stemmed from a hypothesis and preexisting literature suggesting that anxious attachment styles might influence consumer behaviors — specifically the tendency to purchase status-signaling goods. This hypothesis was rooted in the observation that anxiously attached individuals might use material possessions to gain attention and reassurance in social scenarios, a behavior not typically associated with secure or avoidant attachment styles.
To explore this, researchers conducted two large-scale studies with a total of over 2000 participants recruited from Prolific Academic. They employed a survey methodology, where participants reported their attachment style, materialistic values, and tendencies towards status consumption. Simple, direct measures were used to assess these variables, with a focus on understanding the relationships between them. This approach aimed to reveal patterns and connections indicative of underlying psychological tendencies.
The findings were striking. Individuals with anxious attachment styles reported significantly higher levels of materialism and a greater inclination towards purchasing status-signaling goods compared to their counterparts with secure or avoidant attachment styles. This behaviour was mediated by their materialistic values — or, simply put, the findings suggest that individuals may use status consumption to cope with insecurities in relationships.
It is important to note certain limitations in this study. The reliance on self-reported data can introduce biases, and the cross-sectional nature of the study also means that while relationships between variables can be identified, causality cannot be firmly established. Additionally, the study’s sample may not be entirely representative of the general population, as a small percentage of participants reported an anxious attachment style. The researchers acknowledge that socioeconomic factors, which were not controlled for, could also influence these findings.
Still, the research opens up avenues for further exploration into the intricate ways in which our past experiences and emotional make-up shape our consumer habits and
“Individuals with an anxious attachment style differ from those with secure and avoidant attachment styles in the propensity to consume status-signaling goods, with their materialistic values constituting a plausible explanation for this difference,” the researchers noted — highlighting that this insight not only enriches psychological and consumer behavior theories, but may have practical implications for things like marketing strategies and consumer education.
Agata Gasiorowska, Michael Folwarczny, and Tobias Otterbring at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Reykjavik University, and the University of Agder authored this study. It was published under the title “Anxious and status signaling: Examining the link between attachment style and status consumption and the mediating role of materialistic values“.