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Lecture Theatre 4, Regent Street

By Dr Helga Dittmar, School of Psychology, University of Sussex

Advertising, materialism, and appearance are central aspects of contemporary consumer culture. We are bombarded with idealized images of the perfect body, desirable consumer goods, and affluent lifestyles, yet psychology is only just beginning to take account of the link between these consumer culture ideals and individuals' identity and well-being. Of course, material goods can play a beneficial role for constructing and expressing identity, and a concern with appearance can be conducive to both self-esteem and physical health. Yet, the concern of this talk is to focus on the price we may have to pay for internalizing and pursuing core consumer culture ideals It summarises a model of the impact of material ‘good life’ and the ‘body perfect’ ideals on individuals’ identity and well-being (Dittmar, 2008). Aspects of this model are then illustrated by two sets of empirical studies, which examine when and how consumer culture ideals have a negative psychological impact. The first focuses on materialism, documenting that the pursuit of dysfunctional buying behaviour, but also poorer subjective well-being. The second is concerned with 'body perfect' ideals, examining (experimental) exposure to these ideals as a direct cause of women, men, and children coming to feel bad about their bodies.

Dittmar, H. (2008). Consumer culture, identity, and well-being. European Monographs in Social Psychology. London and New York: Psychology Press