A new European study has found that materialistic people are more likely to have more friends on Facebook, as they may see people as "digital objects" that can be collected.
Carried out by researchers from the Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, the team conducted their initial study by asking 242 Facebook users to complete an online questionnaire.
The questionnaire asked participants to rate their agreement with statements in order to calculate their Facebook activity (such as "I'm posting photographs"), social comparison orientation ("I often compare how I am doing socially"), materialism ("My life would be better if I owned certain things I don't have"), objectification of Facebook friends ("Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life") and instrumentalization of Facebook friends ("To what extent do you think Facebook friends are useful in order to attain your goals?").
The results showed that those who are materialistic are likely to use Facebook more frequently and intensely, and have significantly more Facebook friends, with authors of the paper using the findings to develop a new theory, The Social Online Self-Regulation Theory.
The theory suggests that because materialistic people see and treat their Facebook friends as digital objects, they therefore have more than those who are less interested in possessions. Materialists also have a greater need to compare themselves with others on Facebook, and use the social media site to both achieve their goals and feel good about themselves. This includes using Facebook as a tool to learn how far away they are from their goal to become wealthy.
"Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends -- they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possession," explained lead author Phillip Ozimek. "Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it's free --- materialists love tools that do not cost money!"
In an attempt to replicate their findings, the team carried out a separate study with a group of 289 Facebook users which included fewer students and more males than the first sample, reaching the same conclusions.
However, the researchers stressed that the results are do not mean social media should be cast in a negative light.
"Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life -- they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society," Ozimek explained. "We found that materialists instrumentalize their friends, but they also attain their goal to compare themselves to others. It seems to us that Facebook is like a knife: it can be used for preparing yummy food or it can be used for hurting a person. In a way, our model provides a more neutral perspective on social media."
The results can be found published online in the journal Heliyon.