Home Mind & Brain How Our Desires Are Shaped by Social Influence

How Our Desires Are Shaped by Social Influence

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Have you ever wanted something so badly that you believed your whole life would improve as a result of possessing it? Generally, we’re led to think that our desires spring spontaneously from within, as if we independently place our interest on a particular object. According to this view, the birth of desire is explained by an intrinsic value that a given object holds, which stimulates the desire itself.

The complexity of desire and envy

Things don’t always work the way we imagine. For example, today’s influencers – individuals who can steer public opinion – play a significant role in shaping our desires and needs. You might think that each of our desires is a result of free choice, but this straightforward link between the subject and the object of desire becomes complicated when feelings like great admiration, envy, and jealousy come into play.

In such cases, we often find ourselves more focused on the person who owns the object rather than the object itself. We’re more interested in owning something because someone else has it. An intermediary model emerges, someone we envy because they possess what we desire. The object gains value only because it is desired by this “other”.

This notion challenges our individualism and the idea that we’re autonomous entities free to make our own choices, uninfluenced by external factors.

The consequence of low self-esteem

We can say that desire often becomes an end in itself. We desire aimlessly, and in the never-ending quest for self-improvement, we inevitably come across someone who possesses something we lack – and suddenly that object seems essential to our happiness.

Admiring this model reveals a sense of our own inadequacy. If you envy someone, it likely indicates a lack of self-love or even self-contempt. The object becomes a symbol of status, providing social validation.

The role of the influencer

The influencer isn’t passive in this dynamic between the desiring subject and the desired object. An object that no one desires is worthless, so the influencer magnifies its value. The influencer needs to feel the competitive desires of others to maintain their own desire and status. In essence, the influencer provokes competition, encouraging others to want what they have.

The circular nature of desire

The dynamics of desire follow a circular pattern. The influencer flaunts their satisfaction with the object, sparking intensified efforts from others to possess it. Both the subject and the model are mutually dependent yet simultaneously rivals. Their desire is not just for the object but for enhanced social prestige.

However, sooner or later, their desires intersect with other competing desires, leading both the subject and the model to shift their interests, perhaps even swapping roles and creating new objects of desire.

Annalisa Balestrieri holds a master’s degree in modern literature, with a psycho-pedagogical specialisation, from the State University of Milan.


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