What triggers envy on Social Network Sites? A comparison between shared experiential and material purchases

Ruoyun Lin, Niels van de Ven, Sonja Utz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Social network users often see their online friends post about experiential purchases (such as traveling experiences) and material purchases (such as newly purchased gadgets). Three studies (total N = 798) were conducted to investigate which type of purchase triggers more envy on Social Network Sites (SNSs) and explored its underlying mechanism. We consistently found that experiential purchases triggered more envy than material purchases did. This effect existed when people looked at instances at their own Facebook News Feeds (Study 1), in a controlled scenario experiment (Study 2), and in a general survey (Study 3). Study 1 and 2 confirmed that experiential purchases increased envy because they were more self-relevant than material purchases. In addition, we found (in Study 1 and 3) that people shared their experiential purchases more frequently than material purchases on Facebook. So why do people often share experiential purchases that are likely to elicit envy in others? One answer provided in Study 3 is that people actually think that material purchases will trigger more envy. This paper provides insight into how browsing SNSs can lead to envy. It contributes to the research on experiential vs. material purchases and the emotion of envy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-281
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018



  • Experiential purchases
  • Material purchases
  • Envy
  • Social comparison
  • social network sites

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