It's a story as old as the hills: "In modern human cultures where social hierarchies are ubiquitous, people typically signal their hierarchical position through consumption of positional goods — goods that convey one’s social position, such as luxury products," explains a study published Tuesday in Nature.
The new study sheds light on why men in particular may have such extravagant preferences: testosterone.
In the study, called “Single-dose testosterone administration increases men’s preference for status goods,” researchers measured men’s desire for status brands and products, like expensive jeans or watches, and how that desire might be influenced by increased testosterone.
The experiment revealed that administering testosterone increases men’s preference for status brands, compared with brands of similar perceived quality but lower perceived status. It also found that testosterone increases positive attitudes toward goods when they are described as “status-enhancing” but not when they are described as “power-enhancing” or high quality.
“Our results provide novel causal evidence for the biological roots of men’s preferences for status, bridging decades of animal behavioral studies with contemporary consumer research,” the study says.
Other research has shown that in certain contexts, like during competitions or in the presence of an attractive mate, testosterone spikes, and that testosterone increases motivation to promote a person's status. There's also the widely known idea of "conspicuous consumption," which theorizes that certain luxurious expenditures have no other meaningful purpose than to build social status.
Based on all that, the study's authors, led by G. Nave of marketing department of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, hypothesized that "elevated T [testosterone] levels would cause men to exhibit stronger preference toward goods that promote their social rank," like pricey watches.