Abstract: Although some studies have demonstrated that individuals from lower socioeconomic groups have higher tendencies toward materialism, it is not known whether this association is causal, and the underlying psychological mechanisms are not clear. Therefore, we examined the causal relationship between social class, materialism, and the role of self-esteem among Chinese college students. In Experiment 1, we used a priming paradigm to manipulate the perception of social class and found that materialism in the lower-class primed group was significantly higher than in the higher-class primed group and that self-esteem played a mediating role. In Experiment 2, we examined the compensatory effect of materialism on self-esteem in lower-class students by using the imagination paradigm to manipulate materialism. We found that lower-class students had elevated self-esteem in the materialism priming condition compared to the control condition. In summary, our findings indicate that lower-class college students show high materialism tendencies to compensate for low self-esteem. The implications and limitations of this study are also discussed.
Keywords: Materialism, Social class, Self-esteem