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Abstract

Our research explores the amplifying effect of materialism on the experience of traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption via both an Israeli field study and a U.S. national survey. Our field study assesses the moderating impact of materialism upon both traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption among participants from an Israeli town under terrorist attack vs. participants from an Israeli town not exposed to hostilities. Our survey examines the possible underlying processes behind these effects among a nationally representative sample of Americans. The Israeli study reveals that, when faced with a mortal threat such as a terrorist attack, highly materialistic individuals report higher levels of post-traumatic stress, compulsive consumption, and impulsive buying than their less materialistic counterparts. Our U.S. study suggests that these effects are likely due to the fact that materialistic individuals exhibit lower levels of self-esteem, which reduces their ability to cope with traumatic events. Thus, our results indicate that, in addition to its well-documented harmful direct effect on psychological well-being, materialism also exerts an indirect negative effect by making bad events even worse.
ORIGINAL EMPIRICAL RESEARCH
When bad gets worse: the amplifying effect of materialism
on traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption
Ayalla Ruvio &Eli Somer &Aric Rindfleisch
Received: 5 June 2012 /Accepted: 18 June 2013
#Academy of Marketing Science 2013
Abstract Our research explores the amplifying effect of
materialism on the experience of traumatic stress and mal-
adaptive consumption via both an Israeli field study and a
U.S. national survey. Our field study assesses the moderating
impact of materialism upon both traumatic stress and mal-
adaptive consumption among participants from an Israeli
town under terrorist attack vs. participants from an Israeli
town not exposed to hostilities. Our survey examines the
possible underlying processes behind these effects among a
nationally representative sample of Americans. The Israeli
study reveals that, when faced with a mortal threat such as a
terrorist attack, highly materialistic individuals report higher
levels of post-traumatic stress, compulsive consumption, and
impulsive buying than their less materialistic counterparts.
Our U.S. study suggests that these effects are likely due to
the fact that materialistic individuals exhibit lower levels of
self-esteem, which reduces their ability to cope with trau-
matic events. Thus, our results indicate that, in addition to its
well-documented harmful direct effect on psychological
well-being, materialism also exerts an indirect negative ef-
fect by making bad events even worse.
Keywords Materialism .Stress .Mortal threat .Trauma .
Terror
In times of upheaval and stress people often seek relief via
shopping and consumption (Mathwick et al. 2001). Indeed,
just a few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11,
2001, President George Bush encouraged Americans to get
down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and
enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed(New York
Times 2012). Consumption as a means of coping with lifes
challenges is a trademark characteristic of individuals with
high levels of material values (Belk 1985; Richins and
Dawson 1992). Hence, those who heeded President Bushs
directive were probably more materialistic than the average
American. Unfortunately, most materialistic individuals de-
rive little satisfaction from their consumption activities
(Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002). This raises the intriguing
possibility that materialism may actually make bad events,
such as a terrorist attack, even worse. Our research examines
this possibility.
Materialism is a topic that has generated considerable
interest among marketing scholars and has been linked
to a variety of social and psychological ills, including reduced
generosity, decreased life satisfaction, and higher levels of de-
pression and anxiety (Belk 1985;BurroughsandRindfleisch
2002;RichinsandDawson1992). As noted by Kasser (2002,
p. 87), our well-being declines when materialistic values be-
come central to what we believe is important in life.Although
prior research has made important contributions, it has almost
exclusively focused on materialismsdirect effects on well-being.
Thus, we know little about materialismspotentialindirectef-
fects. This is an important issue, as recent research has called for
an expanded look at materialisms impact and consequences
(Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2012;Moschis2007). Our
paper seeks to address this gap by examining the degree
to which materialism moderates (i.e., amplifies) both the
post-traumatic stress (PTS) associated with mortal threats as
well as the impact of this stress upon maladaptive consump-
tion activity in the form of compulsive consumption and
impulsive buying.
A. Ruvio (*)
Department of Marketing, Eli Broad College of Business,
Michigan State University, North Business College
Complex, 632 Bogue Street, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA
e-mail: aruvio@msu.edu
E. Somer
School of Social Work, University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel
e-mail: somer@research.haifa.ac.il
A. Rindfleisch
Department of Business Administration, College of Business,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 383 Wohlers Hall,
Champaign, IL 61820, USA
e-mail: aric@illinois.edu
J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci.
DOI 10.1007/s11747-013-0345-6
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Specifically, drawing on theoretical perspectives from the
literature on materialism, terror management theory (TMT),
and post-traumatic stress, we suggest that materialistic indi-
viduals facing mortal threats such as a terrorist attack will
experience higher levels of stress compared to their less ma-
terialistic counterparts. Moreover, we posit that they will also
exhibit higher levels of maladaptive consumption behavior
such as compulsive consumption and impulsive buying. Thus,
in contrast to prior research that largely focuses on the nega-
tive outcomes of materialism, we examine the degree to which
materialism makes negative outcomes even worse.
Although our empirical focus is on terrorist attacks, our
conceptualization is applicable to a broad range of stressful
life events, including physical abuse, automobile accidents,
and natural disasters. Thus, our research uncovers a hidden
yet potentially quite expansive domain of consequences that
have largely gone unnoticed in the extant materialism liter-
ature. We employ a multinational and multimethod approach
by first assessing our conceptualization through a field study
among Israelis facing an direct mortal threat (i.e., terrorist
attack) and then investigating the underlying process mech-
anisms via a national survey of Americans. Thus, we believe
that our research offers both conceptual and empirical con-
tributions to the materialism domain.
Conceptualization
Our conceptualization is grounded in three distinct but relat-
ed theoretical perspectives: materialism (e.g., Richins and
Dawson 1992), terror management (e.g., Solomon et al.
2004), and stress (e.g., Lazarus 1999; Thoits 1995). Various
combinations of these three perspectives have been examined
in prior research. For example, Burroughs and Rindfleisch
(2002) find that stress serves as a key mediator of the rela-
tionship between materialism and subjective well-being. In
addition, Arndt et al. (2004) suggest that materialism is a
response to the terror of existential insecurity. More recently,
Rindfleisch et al. (2009) show that existential insecurity (i.e.,
terror management) moderates the impact of materialism on
selfbrand connections. However, to our knowledge, no one
has yet examined all three constructs (i.e., materialism, exis-
tential insecurity, and stress) in a single study. Our research
addresses this gap. Specifically, we propose that the mortal
threat of terrorist attacks leads to significant levels of stress
and that individuals seek to cope with this stress by engaging
in maladaptive consumption behavior such as compulsive
consumption and impulsive buying. Moreover, we posit that
the paths between both threats and stress and stress and
maladaptive consumption behavior will be amplified among
individuals high in materialism. This conceptualization is
portrayed in Fig. 1.
Mortal threat and stress
Stress is a topic that has been extensively studied across a broad
domain of literature (Folkman 2010). As noted by Lazarus and
Folkman (1984), stress can been viewed as a stimulus, a re-
sponse, or a combination of the two. Given our conceptualization
of stress as both a reaction to mortal threats and a driver of
maladaptive consumption, we consider stress to be both a stim-
ulus and a response. Any life event, either positive or negative,
that challenges the status quo and requires a response can be
potentially stressful (Cohen 1988;Leeetal.2001). These events
are often external and typically beyond an individualscontrol.In
extreme cases, the stress associated with such events can be
traumatic and produce considerable distress. The American
Psychiatric Association defines traumatic events as events that
involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a
threat to the physical integrity of self or others(American
Psychiatric Association 2000, p. 467). Exposure to these
traumatic, life-threatening events can produce feelings of fear
and a sense of helplessness, which may result in post-
traumatic stress. Individuals suffering from PTS commonly
exhibit a variety of psychosomatic symptoms, including a lack
of concentration, insomnia, intrusive memories, nightmares,
and numbed emotions (Foa et al. 1993).
1
Like many psychosomatic responses, PTS shows consider-
able variability across individuals (Lazarus 1999;Marshalletal.
2007). Nonetheless, PTS is most likely to arise when a traumatic
event is severe, proximate, or frequently occurring (Foa et al.
1993). For example, an epidemiological survey administered in
the aftermath of September 11 found that while less than 4% of
Americans living outside of New York City reported PTS
symptoms, over 11% of New Yorkers experienced such symp-
toms (Galea et al. 2003). Similar results have been found in
Israeli studies that compare the level of PTS among those
living in areas under rocket attack from Palestinians vs. those
living in areas not subject to such attacks (Somer et al. 2007,
2009). Thus, as a baseline hypothesis, we posit that:
H1: Exposure to a mortal threat is associated with higher
levels of PTS.
Stress and maladaptive consumption
Our research focuses on two specific maladaptive consumption
behaviors: compulsive consumption and impulsive buying.
1
Individuals who report six or more of these symptoms and also
experience significant social impairment are typically diagnosed as
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (National
Institute of Mental Health 2009). Since our research is not clinical in
nature, our focus is on the symptoms associated with post-traumatic
stress rather than on PTSD itself.
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Although conceptually related, these two forms of maladap-
tive consumption differ in terms of their origin and manifes-
tation. Specifically, while compulsive consumption is consid-
ered to be a behavioral trait that is often beyond an individuals
control (Hirschman 1992; Moschis 2007), impulsive buying is
a behavior that is more situational in nature and often
influenced by external events (Faber 2010; Rook and Fisher
1995). We selected these two behaviors due to their concep-
tual connection to stress (Hirschman 1992), their use in prior
materialism research (Rindfleisch et al. 1997), and their rele-
vance for marketing theory and practice (Faber 2010).
Prior research indicates that PTS can lead to a variety of
maladaptive behaviors such as alcohol abuse (Jakupcak et al.
2010), eating disorders (Holzer et al. 2008), and sleep dis-
turbances (Harvey et al. 2003). These findings are congruent
with the tenets of terror management theory, which suggests
that the anxiety produced by threat of mortality promotes a
variety of maladaptive consumption behaviors (Ferraro et al.
2005; Kasser and Sheldon 2000; Mandel and Smeesters
2008). For example, Mandel and Smeesters (2008) find that
death anxiety is associated with over-purchasing and over-
consumption of food products. Moreover, prior research in
both consumptive consumption and impulsive buying sug-
gests that these two behaviors are often mechanisms for
coping (in the short term) with adverse emotional states such
as stress (e.g., Hirschman 1992;OGuinn and Faber 1989;
Ridgway et al. 2008). For example, Youn and Faber (2000)
find that the tendency to engage in impulsive buying is
positively associated with stress. Likewise, Sneath et al.
(2009) show that among Hurricane Katrina victims, stress
is correlated with both compulsive consumption and impul-
sive buying.
While they may offer temporary stress relief, these two
consumption activities are generally viewed as maladaptive,
as they have been associated with such negative conse-
quences as binge eating, alcoholism, and drug addiction
(Hirschman 1992; Faber et al. 1995; Valence et al. 1988).
In sum, we posit that the post-traumatic stress produced by
mortal threats is associated with these two maladaptive con-
sumption behaviors.
H2a: Higher levels of PTS will be associated with higher
levels of compulsive consumption.
H2b: Higher levels of PTS will be associated with higher
levels of impulsive buying.
The amplifying effect of materialism
Although materialism is a complex construct and has been
viewed from a variety of perspectives (e.g., Belk 1985;Kasser
and Ryan 1993;RichinsandDawson1992), most marketing
scholars consider materialism to be a centrally held value that is
formed at an early age and remains relatively stable throughout
oneslife(e.g.,BurroughsandRindfleisch2002;Richins2004;
Richins and Dawson 1992). Specifically, Richins (2004)defines
materialism as the importance ascribed to the ownership and
acquisition of material goods in achieving major life goals or
desired states(p. 210).
As a centrally held value, materialism serves as a lens
through which people view and interpret the world (Richins
2004). As noted by Shrum et al. (2005), this lens can provide
a distorted view of reality. Specifically, highly materialistic
individuals often see the world as more affluent than it
actually is and place greater attention to the material objects
owned by others (Kasser 2002). Due to this biased perspec-
tive, materialistic individuals often focus on acquiring pos-
sessions as a means of establishing their sense of self-worth
(Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2012; Chaplin and John 2010;
Hunt et al. 1990). According to terror management theory,
this striving for self-esteem is especially likely when indi-
viduals are reminded of their mortality (Arndt et al. 2004).
Ironically, although materialistic individuals believe that
object acquisition will help them establish a sense of security
and enhance their well-being, the opposite is often the case
(Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002; Kasser 2002). Burroughs
and Rindfleisch (2012) refer to this paradox as the material
trapand suggest that the short-term satisfaction of acquiring
material objects is offset by materialisms long-term negative
consequences upon individual and collective well-being.
H
+
H4
+
H1
+
H3
+
Materialism
Post-traumatic
stress
symptoms
(PTS)
a. Compulsiveness
b. Impulsiveness
Mortal threat
vs. non-
mortal threat
condition
2
Fig. 1 Conceptual model
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Moschis (2007) proposes that personal values such as mate-
rialism may moderate the impact of stressful life events upon
consumption-related coping activities. This proposition is
also congruent with the stress literature, which indicates that
an individuals beliefs and values may moderate their re-
actions to stressful events (Carver and Connor-Smith 2010;
Ehlers and Clark 2000; Lazarus 1999).
Prior research suggests that materialistic individuals often
display low levels of self-esteem and have weak social
support networks (Christopher et al. 2004). As a result,
highly materialistic individuals may lack the psychosocial
resources to control stress when faced with a mortal threat.
Thus, we suggest that materialism will have an amplifying
effect on the relationship between mortal threats and PTS:
H3: The relationship between mortal threat and PTS will be
stronger for individuals high in materialism vs. indi-
viduals low in materialism.
In addition to moderating the effect of mortal threats on
PTS, we suggest that materialism also amplifies the effect of
PTS on compulsive consumption and impulsive buying. One
widely noted characteristic of materialistic individuals is their
(mistaken) belief that material objects are a route toward happi-
ness and well-being (Kasser 2002;Richins2004;Richinsand
Dawson 1992). Indeed, materialistic individuals often turn to-
ward objects as a means of coping with stressful life events and
view these objects as a source of security in an uncertain world
(Rindfleisch et al. 1997,2009). For example, Rindfleisch et al.
(2009)findthat,asaresponsetoexistentialinsecurity,material-
istic individuals exhibit stronger connections to material objects
compared to their less materialistic counterparts. Thus, since PTS
is clearly a negative and insecure state, highly materialistic in-
dividuals should be more likely to display compulsive consump-
tion and impulsive buying activityasameansofcopingwithit.
Hence, we posit that:
H4a: The relationship between PTS and compulsive con-
sumption will be stronger for individuals high in
materialism vs. individuals low in materialism.
H4b: The relationship between PTS and impulsive buying
will be stronger for individuals high in materialism
vs. individuals low in materialism.
Israeli study
Participants and procedures
This first study contrasts two groups of participants: a group
exposed to the mortal threat of terrorist attacks (i.e., mortal
threat condition) and a group not subject to such a threat (i.e.,
non-mortal threat condition). Participants in the mortal threat
condition lived in a town in the southern part of Israel located
about 1 km from the Gaza Strip. Data were collected during
fall 2007, when this area was under extensive rocket attacks
from the Gaza strip (Hall et al. 2008). These attacks occurred
daily for approximately 6 months and disrupted normal
everyday life: schools were closed, people lived in bomb
shelters, and some families sought temporary refuge in safer
parts of the country. Surveys were hand delivered to 200
adult residents of this town during a meeting at a local
community center. Due to the chaotic circumstances, partic-
ipants were given the option to take the questionnaires to
their home or shelter so they could complete them under
safer conditions. Our survey had a 75% return rate. Of our 50
non-respondents, 40 could not be contacted and ten refused
to complete the survey. After excluding 11 surveys due to
missing data, our final sample consisted of 139 participants.
Demographically, our participants were 53% female, had an
average of 13.5 years of education, a mean age of 38.5, and
34% reported an above average income.
The participants in the non-mortal threat condition were
from a town in Israel located approximately 60 km from the
Gaza strip and not under direct threat of rocket attacks.
However, these participants were aware of these attacks via
the extensive coverage of this activity in the Israeli media.
Again, we distributed surveys to 200 adults at a local com-
munity center event during fall 2007. We received 179
completed surveys (a 90% response rate). Nine surveys were
eliminated due to missing data, for a final sample of 170
participants. Among these participants, 52% were female,
with an average of 14.5 years of education, a mean age of 37,
and 38% reported an above average income. Other than
education, which is somewhat higher in the non-mortal
threat condition (p<.05), the demographic profile of partic-
ipants across both conditions is statistically equivalent.
Measures and validation
We measured our key constructs using established multi-
item scales previously validated in an Israeli context. All
measures were written in Hebrew.
Materialism We measured materialism using Richins(2004)
attenuated 9-item Material Values Scale via a 5-point Likert
format. This scale assesses the value that consumers place on
the acquisition of material objects such as expensive cars and
luxury clothing. This scale demonstrated good reliability
(α=.84).
Post-traumatic stress (PTS) We a s sessed the l e v el of psych o -
logical stress experienced by an individual after a life-threatening
event using Foa et al.s(1993)17-itemself-reportedPost-
Traumatic Symptom Scale (PSS-SR). This scale meets the
DSM-IVs(AmericanPsychiatricAssociation2000)diagnostic
criteria for PTS and has been shown to correlate highly with
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clinical assessments of PTSD (e.g., Hobfoll et al. 2006;Somer
et al. 2005). Participants rated how many times they experienced
various stress-related symptomssuchashavingnightmaresor
memory loss during the course of a month (on a 4-point scale
ranging from not at all to five or more times per week). We
calculated the total PTS symptom score by summing each par-
ticipantsresponsesacrossall17items.Thisscaledemonstrateda
high degree of reliability (α=.95).
Compulsive consumption We assessed compulsive consump-
tion using Babin et al.s(1994) 5-item measure of this con-
struct. This measure focuses on the tendency to cope with
negative moods by making an excessive number of purchases
relative to ones disposable income and includes items such
as, I have bought something, got home, and didnt know why
I had bought it.This scale was assessed via a 5-point Likert
scale and demonstrated good reliability (α=.81).
Impulsive buying We assessed our participantstendency to
make unplanned purchases using Weun et al.s(1998) 5-item
measure of impulse buying tendency. This measure, which
includes items such as: When I go shopping, I buy things
that I had not intended to purchasewas assessed via a 5-
point Likert scale and exhibited good reliability (α= .82).
Control variables In addition to our key measures, we also
assessed participantsage, gender, income, and education
(using single item scales), as these indicants have been
related to materialism in prior research (e.g., Burroughs
and Rindfleisch 2002; Chaplin and John 2007; Richins and
Dawson 1992). Also, to account for individual differences in
pre-existing stress, we also controlled for previous traumatic
experiences by asking participants to report if they witnessed
(1 point) or experienced (2 points) or a set of 12 separate
stressful events, such as a car accident, physical assault, or
life-threatening illness. These items were obtained from the
Life Event Checklist (Gray et al. 2004), which is a common-
ly applied assessment of stressful events. The mean score for
this measure was 7.5 (range: 022). This is a formative scale;
thus, we did not calculate its reliability (Table 1). The sum-
mary statistics for all of the measures employed in this study
are presented in Table 1.
Analysis and results
We tested our hypotheses via hierarchical regression analysis
(HRA) (Aiken and West 1991). Specifically, we conducted
three sets of HRA, one for each of our dependent variables:
(1) PTS, (2) compulsive consumption, and (3) impulsive
buying. For each of these dependent variables, we first
specified a direct-effects model and then specified a higher-
order model that also included our hypothesized moderator
effects. We used an incremental F-test to compare the
amount of variance explained in the direct effects vs.
higher-order regressions (Aiken and West 1991). For HRA
1, the key predictors were mortal threat condition and mate-
rialism. For HRA 2 and 3, the key predictors were PTS and
materialism. Each regression also included age, gender, in-
come, education, and life events as control variables. All
variables were mean centered prior to entry in order to aid
interpretation (Aiken and West 1991).
The results of our moderated regressions are provided in
Tables 2(DV=PTS) and 3 (DV=Compulsive Consumption
and Impulsive Buying). As shown in Table 2, the effect of
mortal threat (1=non-mortal-threat, 1 = mortal-threat) on
PTS is positive and significant (b=8.45; p<.01), supporting
H1 and indicating that participants from the mortal threat
condition experienced higher PTS than participants from the
non-mortal threat condition. This analysis also reveals a
significant interaction between threat condition and materi-
alism (b=1.97; p<.05). In order to examine the nature of this
effect, we followed Muller et al.s(2005) recommendation
and calculated the simple effect of mortal threat condition on
PTS at +/1 standard deviation from the moderator (i.e.,
materialism). This analysis reveals that the simple effect for
high materialism is 6.81, while the simple effect for low
materialism is 4.27. Thus, as suggested by H3, the stress
Table 1 Summary statistics
(Israeli study)
All correlations above (below)
.12 (.12) are significant at the
p<.05 level; all correlations
above (below) .21 (.21) are
significant at the p<.01 level
M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1. PTS 11.31 12.63
2. Materialism 2.42 .83 .18
3. Impulsive buying 2.63 1.00 .22 .34
4. Compulsive buying 1.95 0.83 .27 .38 .16
5. Age 36.58 15.01 .07 .25 .14 .02
6. Education 14.16 2.51 .10 .09 .02 .10 .25
7. Income 2.08 .85 .16 .02 .04 .00 .14 .34
8. Gender .51 .50 .06 .07 .04 .05 .08 .21 .05
9. Life events 7.50 5.30 .06 .10 .05 .09 .16 .01 .03 .03
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associated with a mortal threat is greater among highly mate-
rialistic individuals than their less materialistic counterparts.
The results associated with compulsive consumption and
impulsive buying are displayed in Table 3. As predicted, PTS
has a significant effect on both compulsive consumption
(b=2.47; p<.01) as well as impulsive buying (b=3.89;
p<.01). Thus, both H2a and H2b are supported. In addition,
materialism has a significant moderating effect on the rela-
tionship between PTS and both compulsive consumption
(b=3.30; p<.05) and impulsive buying (b=1.95; p<.01).
An examination of the simple effect of PTS on compulsive
consumption at +/1 standard deviation from the moderator
(i.e., materialism) reveals that the simple effect for high ma-
terialism is .12, while the simple effect for low materialism is
.008. Similarly, the simple effect of PTS on compulsive buy-
ing at +/1 standard deviation from the moderator (i.e.,
materialism) reveals that the simple effect for high materialism
is .19, while the simple effect for low materialism is .05. This
pattern of results lends considerable support to both H4a and
H4b by indicating that materialism moderates the association
between PTS and both compulsive consumption and impul-
sive buying.
U.S. study
While our Israeli study provides substantial evidence for the
amplifying effect of materialism, it does not examine the under-
lying reason why materialism amplifies both stress and maladap-
tive consumption. Our conceptualization suggests that these
effects are due to highly materialistic individualsneed for secu-
rity when faced with a mortal threat such as a terrorist attack.
Prior research indicates that individuals with high levels of self-
esteem are better able to cope with these types of death-related
threats (e.g., Greenberg et al. 1997;Harmon-Jonesetal.1997).
Because materialistic individuals typically exhibit low self-
esteem, they may be especially likely to experience higher levels
of stress and seek to resolve this stress via maladaptive consump-
tion activities (Chaplin and John 2010;Christopheretal.2009).
Thus, we examine the role of self-esteem as a possible underly-
ing driver of the effects observed in our Israeli study.
An alternative explanation for our observed effects is a
lack of social support. Prior research suggests that material-
istic individuals have weaker social connections than their
less materialistic counterparts (Burroughs and Rindfleisch
2002; Richins and Dawson 1992). Thus, they may have
weaker social support networks. Since social support is as
an important psychological resource that mitigates the neg-
ative consequences of traumatic events (Brewin et al. 2000;
Ozer et al. 2003; Thoits 1995), materialistic individuals may
have greater difficulty trying to cope with traumatic stress.
This lack of social support may also explain why material-
istic individuals appear to channel their stress through mal-
adaptive consumption activities such as compulsive con-
sumption and impulsive buying. Our second study examines
both of these two alternative explanations.
Table 2 Regression results for PTS (Israeli study)
Predictors b t SE
Mortal threat 5.54 8.45** .66
Materialism 3.53 4.34** .82
Mortal threat×Materialism 1.55 1.97* .79
Age .05 1.00 .05
Education .05 .18 .28
Income 1.53 1.92 .80
Gender 1.02 .79 1.30
Life events .03 .21 1.22
R
2
=.25
F(8,300)= 12.67**
*p<.05, **p< .01
Table 3 Regression results for
maladaptive consumption
(Israeli study)
*p<.05, **p< .01
Predictors DV: Impulsiveness DV: Compulsiveness
b t SE b t SE
PTS .01 2.47** .004 .01 3.89** .004
Materialism .36 5.30** .07 .33 6.02** .06
Materialism×PTS .02 3.30** .01 .01 1.95* .004
Age .01 1.62 .004 .01 1.49 .003
Education .03 1.33 .02 .03 1.63 .02
Income .05 .76 .07 .04 .67 .05
Gender .01 .06 .11 .02 .22 .09
Life events .001 .09 .01 .01 .97 .01
R
2
=.18 R
2
=.21
F(8,300)=8.33** F(8,300) = 9.93**
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Participants and procedures
We co m missi oned an o n line s u r veyadministeredbyQualtrics,
which maintains a large nationally representative online panel
of Americans between the ages of 18 and 65. For a fee,
Qualtrics provides academic researchers with access to this
panel; theses fees are proportional to both the number of items
included in the survey as well as the desired number of partic-
ipants. For this study, we obtained 855 participants. The mean
age of these participants was 36.31, 55% were female, 25% had
Bachelorsdegreeorhigher,andtheir median income was
$50,000. This demographic profile closely matches that of the
U.S. adult population.
Measures and validation
In congruence with our first study, our survey instrument
assessed materialism using Richins(2004) 9-item Material
Values Scale (α=.88), compulsive consumption using Babin
et al.s(1994) 5-item measure (α= .80), and impulsive buy-
ing using Weun et al.s(1998) 5-item measure (α=.82). All
of these measures were assessed using a 5-point Likert
format.
As an indicant of participants degree of perceived mortal
threat, we employed Wittkowskis(2001) 6-item Fear of
Ones Own Death scale, which includes items such as I
am frightened by the idea that my thoughts and feelings will
stop when I am dead.This scale is designed to capture the
degree to which an individual is psychologically disturbed
by the thought of their own death and has been associated
with heightened stress and anxiety. We assessed this measure
via a 4-point Likert format (α=.95).
In terms of our two process measures, we assessed self-
esteem using ten items from Rosenbergs(1965) Self Esteem
scale via a 4-point Likert format (α= .87), and social support
using eight items from Zimet et als(1988) Perceived Social
Support scale via a 7-point Likert format (α= .91). Examples
of these items include I feel that I am a person of worth, at
least on an equal plane with others(self-esteem), and
There is a special person who is around when I am in need
(social support). As seen in their coefficient alpha scores,
these multi-item measures displayed good reliability. In ad-
dition, a confirmatory factor analysis reveals that all of these
measures exhibit strong convergent validity via single factor
loadings.
Finally, as in our Israeli study, our survey instrument also
assessed gender, age, education, income, and previous trau-
matic experiences (using 12 items from the Life Event
Checklist; Gray et al. 2004) as control measures. The mean
score for the Life Event Checklist was 14.42 (range: 1337).
The summary statistics for all of the measures employed in
this study are presented in Table 4.
Analysis and results
The main objective of this second study was to examine the
potential underlying mechanisms for the amplifying effects
of materialism observed in our Israeli study. We began this
process by first assessing the degree to which materialism
amplifies the effect of mortal threats upon maladaptive con-
sumption among Americans. Thus, following our Israeli
study, we conducted hierarchical regression analyses for
both compulsive consumption and impulsive buying. For
each of these dependent variables, we first specified a
direct-effects model (i.e., the effect of fear of own death)
and then specified a higher-order model that also included
materialism as a moderator. We used an incremental F-test to
compare the amount of variance explained in the direct
effects vs. higher-order regressions (Aiken and West 1991).
Each regression also included age, gender, income, educa-
tion, and life events as control variables. All variables were
mean centered prior to entry in order to aid interpretation
(Aiken and West 1991). The results of these analyses are
displayed in Table 5.
As shown in this table, materialism exhibits a significant
moderating effect on the relationship between fear of own
death and both compulsive consumption (b=.08; p< .02) and
impulsive buying (b=.08; p<.02). An examination of the
simple effect of fear of own death on impulsive consumption
at +/1 standard deviation from the moderator (i.e., materi-
alism) reveals that the simple effect for high materialism is
.31, while the simple effect for low materialism is .13.
Similarly, the simple effect of fear of own death on compul-
sive buying at +/1 standard deviation from the moderator
(i.e., materialism) reveals that the simple effect for high
materialism is .36, while the simple effect for low materialism
is .18. This pattern of results provides confirmatory evidence
for the amplifying effects of materialism documented in our
first study among Israelis facing terrorist attack.
As a means of uncovering the potential underlying mecha-
nism for this amplifying effect, we assessed the degree to which
the moderating role of materialismoccursforindividualsunder
high (66th percentile and above) versus low (33rd percentile
and below) levels of self-esteem and social support. This anal-
ysis reveals that this moderating effect holds for Americans
with low self-esteem (b
impulsiveness
=.13, t=2.00, p<.05;
R
2
=.35, F(8,281)=19.22, p<.001; b
compulsiveness
=.18, t=2.88,
p<.004; R
2
=.42, F(8,281)= 25.18, p<.001) but not for those
with high self-esteem (b
impulsiveness
=.04, t=.79, p<.43; R
2
=.28,
F(8,377)= 18.66, p<.001; b
compulsiveness
=.03, t=.67, p<.50;
R
2
=.31, F(8,377)=21.43, p<.001). In contrast, no significant
moderating effects were found with regards to social support for
either impulsiveness or compulsiveness.
In sum, this second study lends confirmatory support for
the amplifying effect of materialism observed in our first
study and suggests that this effect appears to be a generalized
J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci.
Author's personal copy
response to global mortality concerns rather than a localized
reaction to a specific mortal threat. Thus, this study extends
the generalizability of our findings beyond the context of a
particular traumatic event. In addition, this study provides
insight into the possible mechanism behind materialisms
amplifying effect. In brief, it appears that this effect is likely
driven by low levels of self-esteem rather than by a lack of
social support.
Discussion
Over the past two decades, a substantial body of research has
established that materialism is antithetical to well-being (e.g.,
Belk 1985; Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002; Richins and
Dawson 1992). Ironically, while materialistic individuals val-
ue the acquisition of objects as a means of attaining the good
life, this value orientation often reduces their happiness,
lowers their life satisfaction, and makes them more anxious
and depressed. Although materialisms harmful direct effects
have been widely examined, our research shows that this
value may also have substantial negative indirect effects.
Specifically, our field study among 137 Israelis living under
the mortal threat of terrorist attacks indicates that materialism
amplifies the impact of this threat upon post-traumatic stress
as well as the impact of this stress upon maladaptive con-
sumption behaviors. Our survey study among 855 Americans
confirms this amplifying effect and suggests that it may be a
global response to the fear of death and driven by low self-
esteem. In essence, our research suggests that materialism
makes bad events even worse. In this final section, we discuss
the implications of our research and directions for future
inquiries in this domain.
Managerial implications
Our findings indicate that in time of extreme stress, highly
materialistic individuals seek solace in compulsive and im-
pulsive buying activity. Although many stressful events are
largely unpredictable, some (such as severe storms or an
impending military crisis) are forewarned. Under these con-
ditions, consumers often make a mad rush to gas stations and
grocery stores to stockpile fuel and food. Our research sug-
gests that this impulsive tendency during times of crisis may
be more generalizable in nature. This presents an opportunity
for both manufacturers of impulse items and the retailers that
sell these products. For example, retailing managers could
capitalize on this tendency for impulsive coping by placing
more expensive and higher margin products in high traffic
areas and promote these items using messages of assurance
and security (e.g., protect yourself and your family by
investing in our new security system). Future research
could assist in these marketing efforts by examining the
specific types of products and services that materialistic in-
dividuals impulsively purchase during times of traumatic
stress.
Moreover, our results also reveal that these impulsive and
compulsive coping responses are psychologically driven by
low self-esteem. This finding reinforces prior research,
which suggests that, when faced with existential threats,
materialistic individuals look to brands as a security provider
to help bolster their sense of self-esteem (Rindfleisch et al.
2009). This result also holds substantial managerial implica-
tions. During traumatic events such as terrorist attacks, mil-
itary hostilities, or natural disasters, marketers may benefit
from associating their brands with images and narratives that
focus on safety and security. A good example of this strategy
is Budweisers famous 2002 Superbowl ad, which sought to
Table 4 Summary statistics (U.S. study)
M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Fear of death 2.25 .91
2. Materialism 4.28 1.09 .29
3. Impulsive buying 3.78 1.24 .29 .52
4. Compulsive buying 3.68 1.29 .34 .57 .72
5. Self-esteem 4.42 .57 .32 .14 .10 .19
6. Social support 4.86 1.32 .03 .08 .15 .06 .38
7. Age 36.31 13.36 .26 .27 .14 .20 .20 .05
8. Education 2.57 1.19 .03 .09 .09 .02 .16 .16 .07
9. Income 2.38 1.30 .01 .11 .09 .02 .16 .18 .01 .49
10. Gender .56 .50 .001 .03 .04 .03 .01 .02 .002 .03 .06
11. Life events 14.42 3.28 .03 .07 .01 .02 .05 .08 .10 .02 .03 .01
All correlations above (below) .07 (.07) are significant at the p< .05 level; all correlations above (below) .10 (.10) are significant at the p<.01 level
J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci.
Author's personal copy
provide assurance to a nation still recovering from the shock
of the 9/11 terrorist attacks though a solemn but strong
portrayal of its iconic Clydesdales marching past the
Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and the Statue of Liberty.
Theoretical implications
One of the most vibrant areas of materialism scholarship is
the question of why materialism hampers well-being (Burroughs
and Rindfleisch 2002;Kasser2002;Shrumetal.2012).
Although there are numerous explanations for the effect, one
popular view is the notion that material values are extrinsic in
orientation and conflict with intrinsic values such as family,
community, and religion, which produces stress (e.g.,
Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002;KasserandRyan1993). Our
research enriches and extends this school of thought by offer-
ing an expanded view of the relationship between ma-
terialism and stress. Our findings suggest that material-
ism not only produces higher levels of stress (in the form of
PTS) but also shapes the manner in which individuals cope
with this stress. Specifically, our results indicate that, when
faced with traumatic stress (either in the form of a specific
mortal threat or a more generalized fear of mortality), materi-
alistic individuals are more likely to try to relieve this stress
via impulsive and outof-control consumption activities.
Since this type of consumption often leads to increased credit
card debt, greater spousal conflict, and reduced self-esteem, it
is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being
(Hirschman 1992). Thus, materialisms relationship with
stress may be even more pernicious than commonly thought.
This finding is congruent with Moschis(2007) recent obser-
vation that the relationship between materialism and sub-
jective well-being might be more complex than original-
ly assumed(p. 443), and it represents the first documentation
of materialisms indirect (and largely hidden) impact on well-
being.
Our specific example of traumatic stress focused on ter-
rorist attacks. Fortunately, most individuals will never expe-
rience this type of stress. Hence, it is natural to wonder about
the generalizability of our findings to other forms of trau-
matic stress. As shown in our U.S. study, materialisms
amplifying effects occur not just in response to a specific
threat but also as a way of coping with generalized anxiety
about ones mortality. Thus, we believe that the results we
uncovered may extend to a wide variety of contexts. Prior
research indicates that PTS can arise from a host of traumatic
events, including automobile accidents, criminal attacks, and
natural disasters (Cohen 1988; Gray et al. 2004). These
events are, unfortunately, not uncommon. For instance, more
than 3,400 Americans are victims of a violent personal attack
(i.e., aggravated assault, murder, rape, robbery) each day. It
is estimated that approximately 70% of us will experience
one more traumatic events during our lifetime (Breslau et al.
1998; Norris 1992). Thus, the type of stress examined in our
study extends far beyond terrorist attacks. Prior research
suggests that the PTS associated with more personal trau-
matic events such as accidents and assaults tends to be higher
than the PTS associated with more collective events such as a
terrorist attack (Beck et al. 2007; Rothbaum et al. 1992).
Thus, the degree to which materialism moderates the expe-
rience of PTS induced from other types of traumatic events is
an interesting issue for future research. Conversely, although
our conceptualization focuses on the amplifying effects of
materialism upon the association between stress and con-
sumption, it is also possible that stress may amplify the effects
of materialism on consumption (Burroughs and Rindfleisch
2002). Thus, future research that employs a longitudinal or
ethnographic inquiry would be helpful in sorting out the
complex relationship between stress and materialism and the
conditions under which one amplifies the other.
In addition to the stress associated with traumatic events,
everyday life is filled with a variety of stressors, some of
which can result in significant stress. For many individuals,
Table 5 Regression results for
maladaptive consumption
(U.S. study)
*p<.05, **p< .01
Predictors DV: Impulsiveness DV: Compulsiveness
b t SE b t SE
Fear of Death .22 5.34** .04 .27 6.53** .04
Materialism .55 15.59** .04 .61 17.63** .03
Materialism x Fear of Death .08 2.33* .03 .08 2.30* .03
Age .003 1.08 .003 .001 .34 .003
Education .15 2.03* .07 .01 .21 .03
Income .04 1.17 .04 .07 2.37* .03
Gender .01 .39 .03 .02 .30 .07
Life events .01 .89 .01 .02 1.77 .01
R
2
=.31 R
2
=.37
F(8,846)=46.72** F(8,846) = 61.69**
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the economy and the marketplace are sources of considerable
stress. For example, the recent Great Recession has been
empirically associated with increased anxiety, alcohol abuse,
and suicide (De Vogli et al. 2013; Vijayasiri et al. 2012).
Even when economic times are good, the marketplace can
inherently stressful (Duhachek 2005; Moschis 2007; Yi and
Baumgartner 2004). For example, the process of searching
for the best college to attend, the right house to buy, or the
most qualified doctor for a major operation can often result
in high levels of stress. Likewise, many individuals are faced
with the stress of either not having enough money to buy
what they need or having enough money and not being able
to decide what they want. Although some prior research has
explored the role of individual difference factors in terms
coping with stressful economic decisions (e.g., Duhachek
and Iacobucci 2005), the role of materialism in this context
remains unexplored. Thus, the degree to which materialism
amplifies economic and marketplace stress is an interesting
question for future research. This research would be espe-
cially impactful if conducted among individuals living in
economically ravaged countries such as Greece or Spain, in
which economic terror may be just as salient as the existen-
tial terror among individuals facing terrorist attacks.
The stress associated with the marketplace is further height-
ened by the growing number of firms that employ stress-
inducing marketing tactics, such as fear appeals and limited
time offers, to increase consumer response (Aggarwal et al.
2011;Surietal.2007). For example, Aggarwal and colleagues
(2011)findthatlimited-timeandlimited-quantity messages
stimulate consumer purchase intentions by creating a sense of
scarcity. In isolation, these tactics may seem like inconsequen-
tial irritants. However, they canadduptocreateacumulative
effect that may result in traumatic stress. While this effect has
not yet been studied in a consumption context, prior research in
psychology suggests that the cumulative effect of daily hassles
can be nearly as stressful as traumatic events (Lazarus 1999;
Zautra 2003). Our research suggests that materialistic individ-
uals are likely to suffer disproportionately from the use of these
types of marketing tactics. Thus,theindividualswhoaremost
highly involved in shopping and consuming, and presumably
most aware of marketing tactics, seem to be the ones most at
risk from such tactics. Hence, efforts designed to curb market-
ingsharmfuleffectsmustgobeyondjustincreasingconsumer
awareness of marketing tactics (Aggarwal et al. 2011;Surietal.
2007). Future research is needed in terms of conceptualizing
and testing alternative strategies for minimizing the harmful
effects of stress-inducing marketing tactics in general and their
impact on highly materialistic individuals in particular.
Our research focuses squarely upon documenting materi-
alisms negative indirect effects on well-being. This focus is
congruent with the general orientation of the materialism
literature, which largely views materialism as a harmful
byproduct of our consumption-focused economy (e.g., Arndt
et al. 2004; Belk 1985; Burroughs and Rindfleisch 2002;
Richins and Dawson 1992). However, in recent years, some
materialism scholars have begun to wonder if materialism
may also have a bright side (e.g., Burroughs and Rindfleisch
2012; Shrum et al. 2012). For example, Rindfleisch et al.
(2009) find that highly materialistic individuals display stron-
ger levels of communal brand connections compared to their
less materialistic counterparts.
Although they may be a poor substitute for traditional com-
munal connections, brand communities provide individuals with
several benefits, including an enhanced sense of belonging and a
source of help and support (Muniz and OGuinn 2001). Thus,
materialism, albeit indirectly, may also enhance oneswell-being.
Our findings may provide some indirect support to this notion;
although maladaptive consumption is unlikely to be a functional
means of coping with traumatic stress in the long-run, it may be
better than some alternatives (e.g., alcohol abuse, smoking, sui-
cide). Future research could help shed light on this question by
examining the degree to which the incidence of these various
coping mechanisms varies in accord with an individualslevelof
material values. Our hope is that this initial look at materialisms
amplified effects on individual well-being will stimulate further
work on this important topic and help determine when and why
materialism makes bad events even worse.
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... Some studies used questionnaires assessing threats of terrorism or anxiety following terrorist attacks (Gurari et al., 2009;Herzenstein et al., 2015;Raja et al., 2020). Others compared data before and after terrorist attacks (Brouard et al., 2018;Castanho Silva, 2018;Moskalenko et al., 2006;Nakonezny et al., 2004;Stein et al., 2011;Van Assche & Dierckx, 2019) or based on level of exposure to terrorism (Hall et al., 2009;Huet et al., 2019;Ruvio et al., 2014;Shechory-Bitton & Cohen-Louck, 2020). The rest of the terrorism salience (TS) studies collected data shortly after terrorist attacks (Fischer-Preßler et al., 2019;Nugier et al., 2016;Stoppa et al., 2011;Yum & Schenck-Hamlin, 2005) or at different time intervals after terrorist attacks (i.e., immediate or a week later) (Jonas & Fischer, 2006). ...
... About 48% of these TS studies as reported in Table 2 used experimental and control groups such as distressing but non-mortality related topics (e.g., intense physical pain, animal abuse, public speaking) and neutral topics (e.g., pictures of spoons, sports). The rest examined effects of TS by comparing data before and after terrorist attacks or effects of degree of exposure to terrorist attacks such as proximity to terrorism sites (Gurari et al., 2009;Kastenmüller et al., 2014;Ruvio et al., 2014) and probability of terrorist attacks (De Zavala et al., 2010;Kastenmüller et al., 2013). ...
... Similar outcome patterns were also found under TS conditions (Ruvio et al., 2014) where those who lived nearer to terrorism sites and reported higher PTSD symptoms were exhibited more impulsive and compulsive buying, especially for those who valued materialism. These findings converged to support the anxiety buffering effects of self-esteem enhancement in the TMT through consumers' behaviours. ...
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... Disasters and accompanying death-related media also heighten mortality salience, that is, awareness of the inevitability of one's death [19][20][21]. The psychological and behavioral literature on mortality salience has revealed that increased mortality salience may result in compulsive shopping or consumption, substance use, or other risky behaviors [22][23][24], particularly among the highly materialistic individuals [25] and those with low self-esteem [26]. A few studies also show that heightened mortality salience increases donations, and a sense of community or "we-ness" [27,28]. ...
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... Moreover, highly materialistic individuals, when faced with a mortal threat, report higher levels of post-traumatic stress than less materialistic ones (Ruvio et al. 2014). Materialism is also correlated with anxiously attached individuals, making them trade relationships with people for relationships with products (Norris et al. 2012). ...
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... Previous research on compensatory consumption has identified its stimuli and alternative essence, through the consumption of certain goods or related services [10] to offset their unbalanced psychological states, such as low self-esteem [11], difficult or stressful situations [12,13], and boredom [14]. The types of compensatory consumption vary, but mainly focus on eating [15], shopping, and the therapeutic effects of such activities [16]. ...
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The Oxford Handbook of Stress, Health, and Coping examines this field of study with an overview of the newest and best work in this dynamic subject. This book details the expanded knowledge base that has emerged from extensive research on stress and coping processes over the last several decades. The book offers coverage of the two primary research topics related to stress and coping: mitigating stress-related harms and sustaining well-being in the face of stress. Both topics are addressed within their relevant contexts, including chronic illness, calamity, bereavement, and social hardship.
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Impulsive and compulsive buying are terms that are frequently confused for each other, but represent behaviors that differ greatly in their frequency, cause, outcome and severity. Impulsive buying is a more common and ordinary behavior. Almost everyone makes a purchase on impulse (without much deliberation) from time to time.Impulse buying is defined as a sudden and powerful urge in the consumer to buy immediately. It occurs when desire for a product or brand outweighs one's willpower to resist. Research on impulse buying focuses on characteristic of individuals that make them more or less likely to engage in impulse buying. These include mood states, personality characteristics, and situational factors such as proximity and depletion in resources needed for self-control.Compulsive buying, on the other hand, is a psychological disorder where one experiences an uncontrollable urge to buy. Failing to act on this urge creates increasing tension that can only dissipate with buying. Frequently, this urge is triggered by negative events or feelings. Ultimately, this behavior leads to extreme negative consequences for the individual. Many compulsive buyers never use the items they purchase. Thus, compulsive buying appears to be more about obtaining short-term relief from negative feelings than about a desire for specific goods.Keywords:impulsive/impulse;compulsive;excessive buying;mood;buying;shopping;consumer