Greed constitutes one of the seven deadly sins. In my books The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature, I discuss how these deadly sins manifest themselves as various forms of dark side consumption (e.g., eating disorders, pathological gambling, compulsive buying, pornographic addiction). In many religious and spiritual narratives, materialism, a value related to greed, is frowned upon (see here for twenty-five quotes on material possessions in the Bible). To the extent that a materialistic orientation can at times manifest itself via various forms of conspicuous consumption, one might predict then that with greater spirituality comes a lesser proclivity to engage in showy behavior. This is precisely what Tyler F. Stillman, Frank D. Fincham, Kathleen D. Vohs, Nathaniel M. Lambert, and Christa A. Phillips investigated in a recent article published in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

In the first of two studies, they measured individuals’ levels of spirituality as well as their proclivity to engage in conspicuous consumption. As predicted, they found that people who reported being more spiritual were less predisposed to engage in showy behavior. This relationship was mediated by a person’s level of materialism (greater spirituality -> lesser materialism -> lesser conspicuous consumption). While the first study was correlational, the authors conducted next an experimental study in which they primed participants to either think of a spiritual experience or an enjoyable one (control group). The experimental prime was successful in that it generated the requisite difference in felt spirituality across the two groups whilst it did not yield any difference in affect (i.e., any differences along showy behavior could not be driven by a differential level of affect across the two groups). The results were very similar to those found in study 1, namely the group that was primed to think about a spiritual experience was less inclined to engage in conspicuous consumption, and materialism had the same meditational effect as in the first study.

Practical application: Next time that you are about to succumb to the temptation of purchasing an ostentatious luxury product, take a moment to engage your “spiritual” side. Channel your inner Deepak Chopra. Perhaps the desire to show off will be attenuated thus saving you thousands of dollars!

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About the Author

Gad Saad

Gad Saad, Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct.

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