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

Power can corrupt even the honest

11 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

11 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

13 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

Minorities energize US consumer market, according to report

13 hours ago

The buying power of minority groups in the U.S. has reached new heights and continues to outpace cumulative inflation, according to the latest Multicultural Economy Report from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the ...

User comments : 0