Generous paupers and stingy princes? Power and consumer spending

Oct 18, 2010

How do people decide how much to spend on purchases for themselves versus others? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says it all depends on how powerful we feel at the moment of choice.

"We ask whether the powerful and powerless differentially value the self versus others, and whether this, in turn, translates into observable differences in their spending behavior," write authors Derek D. Rucker, David Dubois, and Adam D. Galinsky (Kellogg School at Northwestern University).

The authors conducted five experiments where they manipulated participants' states of power and then examined how much they spent on purchases for themselves or others. Power was manipulated by assigning people to the role of a boss or employee in a task, having participants recall a past time when they possessed or lacked power, or exposing them to advertisements designed to make them feel powerful or powerless.

After completing these power-related tasks, participants took place in an where they bid for a t-shirt and a mug. One group of participants was told to bid on the product for themselves, whereas the members of the other group were told to bid on the product to get it for a person of their choosing. "When participants were bidding to obtain the product for themselves, those who completed the high-power recall task bid $12.08 on average, whereas those who completed the low-power recall task only bid $6.49, an astonishing difference of more than 46 percent," the authors write. In fact, the opposite occurred when the participants were asked to bid on the product for someone else. The low-power people bid $10.81 on average, while the high-power participants bid $7.10.

This same pattern of results emerged across five experiments. "When participants were asked to make a purchase for themselves, the amount of money spent was consistently greater for participants assigned to the high-power condition relative to participants assigned to the low-power condition," the authors write.

Although the high-power participants spent more money on themselves, they were happier when they spent money on others, the authors found.

Explore further: Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

More information: Derek D. Rucker, David Dubois, and Adam D. Galinsky. "Generous Paupers and Stingy Princes: Power Drives Consumer Spending on Self versus Others." Journal of Consumer Research.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The high cost of low status

Jun 26, 2008

Feeling powerless can trigger strong desires to purchase products that convey high status, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

You can look -- but don't touch

Jan 07, 2009

Consumers are often told that if they break an item, they buy it. But a new study suggests that if they just touch an item for more than a few seconds, they may also end up buying it.

Recommended for you

Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

21 hours ago

One wish many workers may have this Labor Day is for more control and predictability of their work schedules. A new report finds that unpredictability is widespread in many workers' schedules—one reason ...

Girls got game

22 hours ago

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Computer games give a boost to English

Aug 28, 2014

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Aug 28, 2014

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

User comments : 0