December 19, 2018

Americans Are Repulsed by Luxury Items

“One story that’s true: Acquiring something luxurious can temporarily increase one’s self-esteem. One story that’s not: Acquiring something luxurious can impress potential friends.

A recent study by Stephen Garcia at the University of Michigan explores that second myth. He and his co-authors set up a variety of hypothetical scenarios and asked subjects what they’d choose to do in one of two roles—either as someone trying to make friends or as someone evaluating potential friends. They found that there’s an imbalance in how the people in the latter position perceive those in the former. “People think … that status is going to attract new friends,” he told me. “However, it actually has the opposite effect—that is, people would rather befriend, in a conversation or in an interaction, someone who doesn’t display [high-]status, but rather more neutral markers,” like a Timex instead of a Rolex.

In one of the researchers’ experiments, subjects—recruited from the main street of an unnamed upscale suburb—were asked how they’d get to a wedding party if they were trying to make new friends: in a luxury car or a more basic one? About 65 percent of respondents picked the luxury car. Another group of subjects, though, was asked who at the party they might want to befriend, and the luxury-car owners were on average rated as much less socially appealing than were the basic-car owners.

In another experiment, college students were asked to pick who they’d like to have a conversation with after being presented with two profiles of imaginary participants that included their hobbies, their home state, the type of car they drive, and the brand of winter coat they wear. The fancier peer—the one who drove a 2017 BMW and wore a Canada Goose jacket—was picked less than a quarter of the time.”

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