If you don't have a lot of friends on social media, it may mean that you are just a little less concerned with material possessions in your everyday life.

According to a new study, materialistic people tend to have a lot more Facebook friends than non-materialistic people, collecting them like they would physical objects. They also spend a lot more time on Facebook than non-materialistic people, and are more likely to compare their lives to the lives of others on the social network.

The authors of the paper, led by Phillip Ozimek of Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, have created a new theory to explain why this occurs. They call it the Social Online Self-Regulation Theory.

"Materialistic people use Facebook more frequently because they tend to objectify their Facebook friends - they acquire Facebook friends to increase their possessions," Ozimek said.

"Facebook provides the perfect platform for social comparisons, with millions of profiles and information about people. And it's free - materialists love tools that do not cost money!"

The authors conducted their research on 531 Facebook users, divided into two groups. The first group of 242 was a pilot study; the second aimed to replicate the first group's results.

Both groups were given a Likert scale questionnaire to gauge how they use Facebook, how much they compare themselves to others, level of materialism, how much they think of Facebook friends as objects, and how much status or other benefits they can gain from their Facebook friends.

Options included statements with which the participants had to agree or disagree, such as "I admire people who own expensive homes, cars, and clothes," "I often compare how I am doing socially," and "Having many Facebook friends contributes more success in my personal and professional life."

They were also asked to supply the number of their Facebook friends.

In both the pilot and the replication group, the team found a correlation between a high number of Facebook friends, objectification of those friends, time spent on Facebook, a propensity to compare oneself to others, and materialism.

Previous research in 2014research in 2014 found that materialistic people were more likely to "Like" brand pages, concluding that the biggest fans of a brand were the most materialistic - and that interacting with brand pages on Facebook was partially about display.

Friends are not the same as brands, but public image may still have something to do with it. As noted in a 1994 paper, materialism is strongly associated with items that can be displayed publicly.

The researchers were careful to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong or bad about the way materialistic people use social networking. On the contrary, they said, this is just how some people achieve their goals and have fun.

"Social media platforms are not that different from other activities in life - they are functional tools for people who want to attain goals in life, and some might have negative consequences for them or society," Ozimek said.

But in the paper, the authors noted, "One might question whether Facebook consumption really makes us happy or whether this remains a mere illusion - such questions should also be addressed in future research."

According to previous research on the topic, comparing yourself to others on social networks can make you feel pretty miserable, but that's also dependent on who you're connecting with and your reasons for being online to begin with.

The research has been published in the journal Heliyon.