To have or to learn? The effects of materialism on British and Chinese children's learning




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American Psychological Association



Peer reviewed



This article presents a systematic attempt to examine the associations of materialism with learning in 9- to 11-year-old children in 2 countries of similar economic development but different cultural heritage. Using cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental methods, we test a theoretically driven model of associations among materialism, learning motivations, and learning outcomes. Convergent findings suggest that a materialist orientation in elementary school children lowers intrinsic learning motivations, fosters extrinsic learning motivation, and learning outcomes. Materialism was linked directly to lower exam performance, and this link was mediated by lower mastery and heightened performance goals, with patterns not differing between British and Hong Kong Chinese children (Study 1). A follow-up showed that initial materialism predicted worse exam grades 1 year later, suggesting a detrimental long-term effect on Chinese children's school performance (Study 2). We then tested relationships between materialism and learning experimentally, by priming a momentary (state) orientation towards materialism. Writing about material possessions and money affected Chinese children's learning motivations, so that they endorsed lower mastery and higher performance goals (Study 3). A video-diary materialism prime had significant effects on actual learning behaviours, leading British children to (a) choose a performance-oriented learning task over a mastery-oriented task, and (b) give up on the task more quickly (Study 4). This research has important implications for personality psychology, educational policy, and future research.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


materialism, learning motivation, achievement goals, school performance, children


Ku, L., Dittmar, H., and Banerjee, R. (2014) To have or to learn? The effects of materialism on British children's learning? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106 (5), pp. 803-821


Research Institute

Institute for Psychological Science