Researchers at the University of Sussex found that while many young people buy into consumer culture believing it will make them feel better about themselves and help them to make friends, often the reverse happens. The result is a negative downward spiral.
“Our results suggest that children who have low levels of well-being are particularly likely to become orientated towards consumer culture, and thus enter into a negative downward spiral,” researcher Dr. Matthew Easterbrook said in a statement. “Consumer culture may be perceived as a coping mechanism by vulnerable children, but it is one that is detrimental to their well-being.”
For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from 1,000 children between the ages of 8 and 14 years old over three years. Among this group, being disruptive, having “cool stuff” and looking good were often seen as the best way to become more popular among peers.
The results, however, show that valuing these behaviors actually has the opposite effect, with peer relations worsening over time for those kids turning to consumer-culture values.
“Our study shows how consumer-culture values are tied up with images of social success in childhood,” Robin Banerjee, professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Sussex, said in a statement. “Although friendly and helpful children were ultimately more popular over time, young people mistakenly predicted that the route to being liked was in having a reputation for disruptive behavior, having ‘cool’ stuff and looking good.”