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(Last updated 8/7/02)

Previous stories pertaining to Professor Arkin's research:

"Researchers Pinpoint Thinking Pattern Of Chronic Self-Doubters," 6/30/99.



COLUMBUS, Ohio - People with chronic self-doubt may be more likely than others to define personal success by having the biggest house on the block or a new luxury car.

A new study found that people with enduring feelings of self-doubt scored higher than others on a measure of materialism - the tendency to value monetary success and material possessions over other goals in life. Specifically, they were more likely to believe that success was defined by what a person owns.

Robert Arkin

"Feelings of self-doubt can send people looking for meaning in their lives, with a goal toward boosting their self-worth," said Robert Arkin, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

"If they aren't deriving a sense of self-worth from other parts of their lives, they may feel that owning a lot of things proves they are successful."

Arkin conducted the study with LinChiat Chang, a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State. The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Psychology & Marketing.

"For those people who are chronically insecure, materialism
seems to be a coping mechanism that they use when they are put
in a situation that makes them doubtful about themselves."

Arkin said research in countries around the world show that people tend to believe that materialism is a weakness of insecure people who doubt their self-worth.

However, he said there has not been much evidence to confirm that.

In one study, Arkin and Chang had 416 undergraduate students complete a variety of measures that examined their levels of self-doubt, several forms of materialism, and other psychological traits.

The results showed that people who were chronic self-doubters scored higher in materialism. In particular, they scored higher on a measure of materialism in which people define success in terms of what they own. For example, they were more likely to agree with statements such as "I like to own things that impress people" and "The things I own say a lot about how well I'm doing in life."

The link between self-doubt and materialism was confirmed in a second study that found that inducing feelings of self doubt could increase materialistic tendencies in those with chronic self-doubt.
This study involved 95 undergraduates - half who scored high in chronic self-doubt and half who scored low.

Participants were asked to memorize words by relating these words to their own personality and experiences. Half the subjects memorized self-doubt words (insecure, doubtful, uncertain, etc.) while the other half memorized words unrelated to self-doubt (inside, double, unicorn, etc.). Prior studies have shown that this technique increases feelings of insecurity in those who memorize doubt-related words. In this study, participants were asked about their current state of mind regarding materialism, rather than their long-term feelings.

Results showed that when participants memorized doubt-related words, those who scored higher on chronic self-doubt showed significantly higher levels of current materialism than those who did not have chronic self-doubt.

But among those who memorized the unrelated words, there was no difference in immediate feelings of materialism between the chronic self-doubters and the confident participants.

"For those people who are chronically insecure, materialism seems to be a coping mechanism that they use when they are put in a situation that makes them doubtful about themselves," Arkin said.

Arkin said it is noteworthy that self-doubters score high on a type of materialism that equates possessions with success.

"Chronic self-doubters are not interested in possessions because they bring happiness or because they simply like owning a lot of things," Arkin said. "They are interested in possessions because of their meaning, the status they confer. They believe their possessions demonstrate success."

That's why materialism can be seen as a coping response for people who are uncertain about their identity, he said.

The results also showed that materialism is related to another type of uncertainty - anomie. While chronic self-doubters tend to be uncertain about their own abilities and identity, those who score high in anomie tend to feel uncertainty related to their society and culture. They tend to feel rootless and believe society lacks clear guidelines for behavior.

But whether a person suffers from anomie or self-doubt, Arkin said materialism is a poor coping mechanism. Other studies have shown that a materialistic orientation to life is linked with poor psychological functioning and lower life satisfaction.

"The cycle of materialistic pursuits is disappointing and exhausting in the long run and can make people perpetually unhappy," Arkin said.

It is better to find other goals in life and find areas where one can excel without resorting to material possessions as proof of success, he said.


Contact: Robert Arkin, (614) 292-2726; Arkin.2@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu