Status symbols like Rolex watches and Prada handbags repel potential friends, new research finds.
It is the exact reverse of what many expect.
People assume that status symbols will make them look more socially attractive to others.
In fact, people are more friendly towards those wearing neutral or low status items, like those from Walmart.
Dr Stephen Garcia, who led the study, said:
“Often times we think that status symbols — whether a luxury car like a BMW, a brand name purse like Prada, or an expensive watch like Rolex — will make us look more socially attractive to others.
However, our research suggests that these status signals actually make us look less socially attractive, not more.”
In one experiment the researchers carried out, people chose between wearing a t-shirt with “Walmart” printed on it or “Saks Fifth Avenue”.
Fully 76% of people chose to wear the higher status Saks t-shirt, assuming it would be more socially attractive.
However, when they were evaluated as a potential friend by a group, 64% of people preferred the person wearing the Walmart t-shirt.
Dr Kimberlee Weaver Livnat, study co-author, said:
“At a societal level, we may be wasting billions of dollars on expensive status symbols that ultimately keep others from wanting to associate with us.
And to the extent that close friendships are important to well-being, we may be inadvertently hurting ourselves.”
Status symbols are not always bad, said Dr Patricia Chen, study co-author:
“Our findings right now only apply to the formation of new friendships.
Status symbols may very well be beneficial at other times and in other settings, such as when trying to establish new business contacts.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (Garcia et al., 2018).