Social comparison, materialism, and compulsive buying based on stimulus-response-model: a comparative study among adolescents and young adults

Tahir Islam, Zaryab Sheikh, Zahid Hameed, Ikram Ullah Khan, Rauf I. Azam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide the overview of factors responsible for materialism and compulsive buying among adolescents and young adults. In today’s world, materialism is a crucial phenomenon of the modern age. According to social comparison theory, comparisons are a significant factor affecting the behavioral intentions of adolescents and young adults. Thus, this study develops a framework based on the stimulus–organism–response model and uses the framework to examine the impact of interpersonal communication and marketing factors on social comparison, materialism and compulsive buying, with social media acting as a moderator. 

Design/methodology/approach: Using a survey method, data were collected in Study 1 from adolescents (n = 298) and in Study 2 from young adults (n = 345). Structural equation modeling analysis using partial least squares technique was used to analyze the data. 

Findings: The results show that social comparison plays a significant role in developing materialistic values and compulsive buying among adolescents and young adults. Through these two studies, it was found that young adults are more socially comparative, materialistic and compulsive in buying as compared to adolescents. Moreover, social media use moderated the relationship between social comparison with peers and media celebrities, which means that rapid increase of social media use leads adolescents and young adults to create high social comparison and materialistic values. 

Research limitations/implications: This research is based on the cross-sectional method, which limits the research findings. 

Practical implications: This research helps corporate managers understand the interpersonal communication role in creating social comparison among individuals. The study found that peer communication plays a more important role in enhancing the social comparative values among young adults than among adolescents, which provides clear implications for the practitioner.

Originality/value: This study makes a significant contribution to extant literature by discussing the above issue and presenting quantitative data. The study extends the literature by examining and validating a theoretical model of how interpersonal communication among socializing agents affects social comparison among young adults and adolescents. This research examines outcomes of the social comparison with parents, peers and social media, based on the stimulus–organism–response (SOR) model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
JournalYoung Consumers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Compulsive buying
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Materialism
  • Social comparison


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