Children who watch a lot of commercials attach more value to money and things. This does not, however, decrease their happiness. Unhappy children do become more materialistic, but only if they watch a lot of commercials. These are the conclusions of doctoral researcher Sanne Opree, who will be defending her PhD thesis at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Thursday, 6 March.
Opree studied the effects of commercials on children. In the first part of her study, she looked at how exposure to advertising and materialism in children could be reliably and validly measured. She then examined the relationship between exposure to advertising, materialism and happiness over time.
The outcomes of Opree's research show that children who watch a lot of commercials attach more value to money and things. At the same time, she found that materialistic children aren’t necessarily less happy, as materialism does not cause dissatisfaction. Conversely, however, unhappy children have a greater tendency to seek comfort in things. This is reinforced by exposure to advertising, which stimulates even more desire for all kinds of products. It appears that children who experience less enjoyment in life would like to believe that happiness can be bought.
Children who attach a lot of value to possessions are not by definition worse off. According to Opree, material things can sometimes provide a temporary distractions from negative situations, such as an unpleasant situation at home. ‘Nevertheless, in the long term it is important to teach children that valuable friendships and self-development increase the chances of happiness in life,’ says Opree. ‘Besides, shielding children from advertising doesn't seems to help in decreasing its effects. However, talking with children about the real intentions behind advertising does.’
A total of 1,200 children between the ages of 8 and 11 participated in the various studies. To determine how much value the children attached to money and things, Opree asked them questions – at two moments spaced one year apart – such as: ‘Do you feel unhappy if you can't buy the things you actually want to have?’ and ‘Do you think that other children would like you better if you had a lot of expensive things?’ To determine how many commercials the children watched, Opree looked at how often the individual children watched television and how often they watched certain (commercial) channels and programmes.
To measure materialism, Opree developed a new instrument: the Material Values Scale for Children. This instrument measures all three dimensions of materialism: material centrality (i.e. the degree to which children give things a central place in their lives), material happiness (i.e. the degree to which children think that things make people happy) and material success (i.e. the degree to which children believe that things bring success/popularity).
S.J. Opree, Consumed by Consumer Culture? Advertising’s Impact on Children’s Materialism and Life Satisfaction. Supervisors: Prof. M.A. Buijzen and Prof. P.M. Valkenburg. Co-supervisor: Dr E.A. van Reijmersdal.
The PhD defence ceremony will take place on Thursday, 6 March at 12:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 229-231, Amsterdam.