Why do people struggle to impress others

Six cylinders, 620 hp, from zero to one hundred in an incredible 3.5 seconds. With this machine, the driver secures every look - and if you don't see him immediately, you will hear the roar of the engine. The price of more than 200,000 euros for this super sports car should be well invested. The owner will be coveted! And whoever does not desire him will envy him until he falls sick!

Well, that's the way to say it, if you are a materialistically inclined person and see advertising for a status symbol like a super sports car.

The problem with the whole thing: the car won't make you happy. Even more, as psychologists working with Galen Bodenhausen from Northwestern University report, even short-term materialistic desire gives the mood a low blow (Psychological Science, online).

Research and probably also the so-called common sense have known for a long time that people with a materialistic disposition are more likely to be unhappy than contemporaries who are not impressed by sports cars and other luxury goods. They constantly have to compare themselves to others, and someone always has the more expensive, better, newer car.

According to studies, materialists are also more likely to have relationship problems, be less physically fit, and adapt poorly to new situations. But the question of causality has not been adequately answered, say Bodenhausen and his colleagues: "It could be that materialism is a consequence of a personal dysfunction - and not the other way around." Clinging to possessions is therefore simply a compensation for social deficits.

But Bodenhausen now shows that materialistic thinking can very well be the direct trigger of bad feelings. The psychologists exposed their test subjects to consumption stimuli such as those present in everyday life through advertising. Half of the participants saw pictures with desirable products, then the test subjects had to fill out questionnaires.

In fact, they were rather depressed and fearful; In addition, they showed significantly less incentive to engage in activities with other people than those test subjects who had previously been shown pictures without consumer goods.

The psychologists achieved similar results in three further studies in which terms from the realm of consumption reduced the tendency to helpful or social behavior.

"The advertising shows us a constant parade of desirable goods," says Bodenhausen - and this probably triggers negative feelings in everyday life that are similar to those in the test subjects.