Study author Rik Pieters of Tilburg University in the Netherlands studied more than 2,500 consumers over a period of six years and finds loneliness was likely to lead to materialism.
However, while materialism sometimes caused loneliness, it could also decrease loneliness.
The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found loneliness increased over time for consumers who valued material possessions as a measure of success or a type of "happiness medicine" but decreased for those who sought possessions just for the sheer joy and fun of consumption.
Singles pursued material possessions less for the pleasure of acquiring and owning them and more as a type of "material medicine." Men are more likely to view possessions as a measure of status and success in life, whereas women viewed possessions more as a source of "material mirth," the study says.
Materialism can be bad for consumers who seek meaning or status through their possessions, but it may actually benefit consumers who acquire possessions solely for pleasure and comfort.
"While materialism can increase loneliness, it may actually reduce loneliness for some consumers. Increasing opportunities for social interaction and improving social skills may be more effective at reducing loneliness than the usual appeals to turn off the television or stop shopping," Pieters concludes.