Buying a BMW: How do social expectations influence your purchases?

May 21, 2014

People who drive BMWs and wear expensive suits must surely occupy roles of power and authority. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, when we can separate societal expectations of power from how power makes us feel, we have better control over what it means to be powerful.

"When a person is placed into a powerless or powerful role, they sometimes conform to the expectations of that role. But when they are focused on the internal feeling of having or lacking power, we observed the opposite patterns of behavior," write authors Derek D. Rucker (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University), Miao Hu (University of Hawaii at Manoa), and Adam D. Galinsky (Columbia University).

The authors studied how a person's perception of power could hinge on what they are focused on at the time. That is, when a person is focused on how an experience of power makes them feel, they should respond based on those feelings. Conversely, when they are focused on the expected behavior associated with being powerless or powerful, people should respond based on those feelings.

The authors studied the impact of power on participants' feelings. When participants were made to focus on what was expected of them (for example, their role within a company), they were more likely to purchase status-signaling products like a BMW. When asked to focus on the internal feelings of having or lacking power, the researchers found that only the participants who felt powerful were likely to purchase similar items.

These results provide insight for brands selling luxury items to consumers in powerful roles. Such brands may consider emphasizing social expectations and roles at work. In contrast, when promoting status-signaling products to powerless consumers, brands might consider suggesting how high-status products can compensate for their lack of power. "For consumers, the current research helps us better understand the psychological drivers behind our preferences and purchase decisions," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Power play: Empowered consumers are more likely to switch brands

More information: Derek D. Rucker, Miao Hu, and Adam D. Galinsky. "The Experience versus the Expectations of Power: A Recipe for Altering the Effects of Power on Behavior." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2014.

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.

Recommended for you

Why are UK teenagers skipping school?

Dec 18, 2014

Analysis of the results of a large-scale survey reveals the extent of truancy in English secondary schools and sheds light on the mental health of the country's teens.

Fewer lectures, more group work

Dec 18, 2014

Professor Cees van der Vleuten from Maastricht University is a Visiting Professor at Wits University who believes that learning should be student centred.

How to teach all students to think critically

Dec 18, 2014

All first year students at the University of Technology Sydney could soon be required to take a compulsory maths course in an attempt to give them some numerical thinking skills. ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.