The role of social status and testosterone in human conspicuous consumption

03 Nov 2017

Conspicuous consumption refers to the phenomenon where individuals purchase goods for signalling social status, rather than for its inherent functional value. This study (n = 166 male participants) investigated how the outcome of a social competition influenced conspicuous consumption, and its association with competition-induced testosterone reactivity. Winning a competition increased both explicit and implicit preferences for higher-status vs. lower-status products, using both natural stimuli (prestigious cars) and laboratory-tagged stimuli of matched value (university T-shirts). Competition also influenced behaviour in an Ultimatum Game, such that winners were more likely to reject unfair offers. Competition outcomes had no discernible influence upon salivary testosterone levels, and neither basal testosterone levels nor testosterone reactivity induced by competition predicted the conspicuous consumption measures. Our data indicate that winning a competition lead to more dominant behaviour, albeit in a manner that is not statistically regulated by testosterone, possibly through increased feeling of entitlement.