New research suggests that people with greater feelings of interpersonal security — that is, a sense of being loved and accepted by others — placed a lower monetary value on their possessions than people who did not feel as secure.
The research was conducted by Edward Lemay, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at University of New Hampshire, and colleagues at Yale University.
In a set of two experiments involving 185 individuals gathered from an Internet discussion forum and 68 college students, the researchers measured how much people valued specific items, such as a blanket and a pen that had the university’s logo on it.
In some instances, people who did not feel secure placed a value on an item that was five times greater than the value placed on the same item by more secure people.
“People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort,” Lemay says. “But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort, those possessions decrease in value.”
The use of the blanket was thought to be associated with warmth and comfort, while the use of the logo pen was associated with belonging to a valued group. The researchers suggest that the use of these specific objects can readily generalize to other possessions that fall into similar categories.
The researchers theorize that the study results could be used to help people with hoarding disorders.
“These findings seem particularly relevant to understanding why people may hang onto goods that are no longer useful. They also may be relevant to understanding why family members often fight over items from estates that they feel are rightfully theirs and to which they are already attached.
The researchers also suggest that their data may help explain why a person may be reluctant to part with possessions for money, because the person’s existing ownership of the good gives the person this sense of interpersonal security. They suggest this is often likely an unconscious feeling, hence the reason a person may not be able to verbalize it.
The study also points to why people often may over-value a possession that provides them with a sense of security.
“Inherited items may be especially valued because the associated death threatens a person’s sense of personal security,” Lemay says.
The research is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Source: University of New Hampshire