Reasons You Can’t Leave Your iPhone: #74
February 26, 2012 5 Comments
Most people get made fun of by their friends for being a little too attached to a certain object. (For example, I carry around a limited edition Jan. 1972 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology at all times. Ok, not really, but I wish I did.) The thing is, these attachments are not completely crazy because objects can act as useful short term substitutes when it comes to fulfilling psychological needs. Case in point, a new study by Lucas Keefer and his colleagues at the University of Kansas that shows when people close to us are unreliable, we become more attached to objects.
Participants primed with close others’, but not strangers’, unreliability reported increased attachment to belongings (Study 1), and this effect was mediated by feelings of attachment anxiety (concern over close others’ availability), but not attachment avoidance (avoiding emotional dependence; Study 2), suggesting that object attachment compensates for the perception that close others are unreliable rather than consistently rejecting.
In a third study subjects were actually forced to give up their cell phones, and those primed with uncertainty about their relationships showed more separation anxiety and motivation to reunite with their phone.
One neat thing about the study is that it shows the extent of our psychological evolution. The ability to fulfill a need with human interaction or an inanimate object is no easy feat, and it likely took our brains a good part of human history to learn this trick.
Although the study focuses on attachment anxiety, I think our ubiquitous concern with self-worth could also be part of the object-attachment story. When other people cause you to consider them unreliable, that’s an attack on you. After all, if you were more awesome they would never disappoint you with their unreliability. As a consequence of this ego downgrade, we must find a way to enhance our self-worth, and one method could be making our valuable possessions more salient.
Keefer, L., Landau, M., Rothschild, Z., & Sullivan, D. (2012). Attachment to Objects as Compensation for Close Others’ Perceived Unreliability Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.007