Do Media Portrayals of Affluence Foster Feelings of Relative Deprivation? Exploring a Path Model of Social Comparison and Materialism on Television Viewers' Life Dissatisfaction

Open Access
Yang, Hyeseung
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 08, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Mary Beth Oliver, Committee Chair
  • S. Shyam Sundar, Committee Member
  • Fuyuan Shen, Committee Member
  • Mark E Hill, Committee Member
  • television
  • materialism
  • social comparison
  • relative deprivation
  • media portrayals
  • life satisfaction
American television programs have been criticized for being filled with images endorsing capitalist consumerism and for being weighted toward the upper middle classes. This study premised that heavy viewing of these distorted representations in the medium may culminate in decreases in individuals’ subjective well-being. Consequently, a hypothesized path model investigated the supposition, based on cultivation and social comparison perspectives. Surveys were administered to 239 adults in a small city of Pennsylvania, and the data were subjected to path analysis. The findings of this study suggest that heavy television viewing may be associated with higher levels of material value, estimates of other people’s affluence, and perceived gaps between the self and others in terms of material affluence. Importantly, the findings also suggest that material value and perceived social comparison gaps may be associated with dissatisfaction with standard of living, and that the dissatisfaction with standard of living in turn may influence both dissatisfaction with personal life and dissatisfaction with current social equality.