Men who can’t seem to resist luxury cars or expensive suits can blame their hormones. New findings suggest testosterone levels can influence their desire for status-enhancing brands.
The study titled “Single-dose testosterone administration increases men’s preference for status goods” was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 3.
The male sex hormone plays a role in generating both status-seeking and status-protecting behaviors.
“In the animal kingdom, testosterone promotes aggression, but the aggression is in service of status,” said study author Colin Camerer, a professor at the California Institute of Technology. “A lot of human behaviors are repurposed behaviors seen in our primate relatives.”
And in this case, physical aggression is replaced with a sort of “consumer” aggression.
According to the press release, the objective of the new study was to get to the biological heart of conspicuous consumption — the practice of purchasing luxury goods in order to display their wealth and status rather than to meet basic needs.
As part of the study, 243 men (between the ages of 18 and 55) were recruited, where each received a gel to be absorbed through their skin. At random, every participant either received a testosterone gel or a placebo gel. While the former is used to create a spike in the levels of the hormone, the latter did not provide any dose of testosterone.
Next, the participants were asked to choose between two pairs of brands — one associated with high social status while the other was of equivalent quality, but relatively lower social status.
For example, whether they preferred Calvin Klein (higher in the social hierarchy) or Levi’s (lower in the social hierarchy). The researchers found those who received the testosterone dose showed a stronger preference for the luxury goods than the men who received the placebo gel.
In a different task, participants were asked to rate a series of adverts for consumer goods including a car, a pair of sunglasses, and a coffee machine.
Every individual was presented with one of three different versions of each advert, emphasizing the product’s quality, status, or power respectively. Here, it was found the testosterone group had more positive attitudes toward adverts that emphasized the status-enhancing aspect of goods.
“While the study shows that consumption of positional goods is partly driven by biological motives, it is important not to forget that cultural differences might play a role in the biological underpinnings of status behavior and that status signals are not universal,” said author Gideon Nave from the University of Pennsylvania.
“These results bring the first theoretical insights on the biological basis of preference for high-status goods that need to be replicated and generalized in other populations.”