The Children's Consumer Culture Project

Children's materialistic and appearance ideals and motives: Scale validation study


  • Previous research has linked children’s social motives to internalised consumer culture ideals.  For example, findings in a study by Banerjee and Dittmar (2008) indicated that social motives were a powerful factor in children’s adoption of materialistic ideals.  However, despite this, very little research exists regarding children’s motives for adopting consumer culture ideals of materialism or appearance and few, if any, scales exist that have been developed specifically to measure these motives.
  • In our previous study, we interviewed children with the aim of understanding their motives for wanting money and material things and for wanting to look good.  Findings suggested that children’s materialistic and appearance motives are overwhelmingly social and extrinsic in nature, which according to self-determination theory may lead to lower well-being.


  • To pilot new measures of materialistic and appearance motives, and internalised materialistic and appearance ideals, and to validate these measures by comparing them with existing scales.
  • To examine the proposal that materialistic and appearance ideals are strongly related with one another, i.e., children who value material goods and getting rich also value appearance and striving towards the socio-cultural beauty ideal.


  • Our newly developed measures of materialistic and appearance ideals and motives will correlate strongly with existing measures
  • Children’s social motives for materialism and appearance will be strongly associated with internalised materialistic and appearance ideals.


  • 160 children from Years 4, 6, 8 and 10 (8-15 years) attending local primary and secondary schools in Brighton and Hove, UK completed five measures.  For each measure, children showed how much something was true for them, or how much they agreed or disagreed with a statement on scales ranging from 1 (not at all true or disagree a lot) to 4 (very true or agree a lot).  All measures were completed in whole class groups during a single session taking approximately 30-40 minutes.
  • Materialistic and appearance motives
    • Materialistic (24 items) and appearance (19 items) motives scales were developed based on the motives children gave in our previous interview study, e.g., to be popular, to look good, to impress others etc.  Each statement was preceded by the stem of either: Having money and expensive things is important because... (Materialistic motives); and Looking good (e.g.,the way your body looks and what you wear’) is important because... (Appearance motives).
  • Consumer Culture Internalisation Scale
    • This scale consists of 32 items reflecting both materialistic (e.g., ‘I wish I was rich like celebrities on TV’) and appearance (e.g., ‘Having the perfect body is important to me’) values, and was developed based on focus group interviews, existing measures, and three key themes of importance (how much importance is attached to the ideal), investment (how much time and effort is invested in the ideal), and identification (how much one personally identifies with the ideal).
  • Youth Materialism Scale (YMS) Goldberg et al. (2003)
    • This scale consists of 10 items reflecting materialistic values (e.g., ‘I like to buy things my friends have’).
  • Internalisation of Appearance Ideals Scale (IAIS)
    • Adapted from the internalisation subscales of SATAQ 3 developed by Thompson et al., (2004), this scale consists of 7 items reflecting children’s internalisation of media ideals of appearance (e.g., I wish I looked like a model’).

Preliminary findings

  • The new scales of materialistic ideals and materialistic motives were strongly associated with the Youth Materialism Scale, and the scales of appearance ideals and appearance motives were strongly associated with the Internalisation of Appearance Ideals Scale, indicating that these newly developed scales measured what they were designed to measure.  
  • The materialism and appearance ideals scales were strongly associated with one another.


  • Our newly developed scales of materialistic and appearance ideals and motives are indeed strongly correlated with existing measures
  • As has been previously suggested (Kasser, 2002), the finding in this study that the consumer culture ideals of materialism and appearance are linked indicate that they may indeed have similar psychological underpinnings.

 Further research

  • The next aim was to carry out a large scale longitudinal study to examine the links between consumer culture ideals and well-being over time with a larger sample of school children.
  • We were particularly interested in the moderating mechanisms that influence these links (e.g., children’s sense of identity and peer relationships).