Hidden Brain Puzzle # 38: Uncertainty Prompts Individualists to Become Materialistic

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We know that some people tend to define themselves by their possessions, but did you know the level of uncertainty a person feels can influence whether they behave in materialistic ways?

That’s the conclusion of new research by Kimberly Rios Morrison and Camille S. Johnson. The researchers also found that uncertainty does not trigger materialism uniformly across people; it selectively influences individualists rather than people who tend to see themselves as members of a social group.

In a puzzle, posted as always on The Hidden Brain’s Facebook page, I asked

European and Asian Americans were recently asked whether their jeans reflected who they were. Which group felt defined by their clothes?
A) Asian Americans feeling confident
B) Asian Americans feeling uncertain
C) European Americans feeling confident
D) European Americans feeling uncertain

The correct answer is D. Morrison and Johnson found that European Americans, who tend to see things in individualistic terms, were more likely to identify with their personal possessions when their self-concept was threatened and they were made to feel uncertain.

In a paper published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, they write about a possible implication of the research in the real world:

“Imagine a member of an individualistic culture who is experiencing a midlife crisis or who feels uncertain about her coworkers’ perceptions of her abilities. Assuming that the midlife crisis (or uncertainty about coworkers’ perceptions) instigates feelings of self-uncertainty, this person would likely cling to the objects that best convey her personal characteristics. For example, she might choose not to donate her favorite but worn-out pair of jeans to charity or not to relinquish her old car that no longer functions properly …”

Share your thoughts about this research (or how you feel about your old pair of jeans) here or at www.facebook.com/hiddenbrain

European and Asian Americans were recently asked whether their jeans reflected who they were. Which group felt defined by their clothes?
A) Asian Americans feeling confident
B) Asian Americans feeling uncertain
C) European Americans feeling confident
D) European Americans feeling uncertain

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