Home » Uncategorized » old post: Am I a consumer or am I something else?

old post: Am I a consumer or am I something else?

from 2012

It's the new television season and an opportunity to watch many commercials! Those television shows exist primarily because they can sell products, they can make people consumers. Is there any unintended consequence of this emphasis on consumerism?
Think about what you might do with your time. Among the possibilities (e. g., watching my Cardinals march on to the World Series, doing laundry, looking for the bugs the CIA has planted.) are that we might consume, take things in for ourselves. Or we might build social relationships. Might the consumerism that drives so much of our experience affect our choices? 
A set of studies by Monika Bauer, James Wilkie, Jung Kim, and Galen Bodenhausen published in May's Psychological Science  gives us a partial answer. Across four studies, priming people with consumerism reduced their tendency to want to associate with others, except in competition. 
For instance, in the first study people were assigned to rate the pleasantness of either consumer goods (e.g., electronics, cars, or neutral images. Afterwards those who had rated consumer goods were higher in depressive and anxious affect. They also wanted to spend less time in social activities (e.g., being part of a student group or going to parties). 
In another study, participants were given sets of five words and needed to construct a sentence using four of them. For half the subjects, some of the sets included consumerist words (e.g.,buy, asset). For the other half of subjects they did not. Those with the consumerist words subsequently said more that competition was important (e.g.,  Doing better than others gives me a sense of self-respect.) They also said they would be less willing to volunteer for a good cause. 
Finally, in one study participants read of a water crisis involving four people using a well. (Lassie, go find help for Timmy. Ooops. Wrong story.) Sometimes the people were referred to as consumers, others as individuals  Consumer or Individual, for instance). When they had been called participants felt less responsibility for dealing with the crisis. 
Might the consumerism that drives so much of our experience affect our choices?
This is one of a series of studies that has highlighted the problems arising from thinking of money, material goods, and the like. There's good evidence that depression and narcissism have been on the rise in the US in recent decades. Is part of that rise attributable to our focus on being consumers rather than, say, friends, servants, citizens? One of my pet peeves is to hear those working at universities refer to students as customers. They are students, and it likely makes a difference that we construe each other as members of a community, each with distinct roles, rather than some people trying to sell something to others. 
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