Beware of the Pull of Prada

Mar 27, 2018
Marketing

Women Leading Research: Yajin Wang

Yajin WangSMITH BRAIN TRUST – Although prior research has studied why people are motivated to purchase luxury goods, little research has examined the actual societal effects of people using these luxury products. So how, exactly, does luxury consumption dictate social behavior? 

That’s the question Yajin Wang, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, seeks to answer in a new study, “The Devil Wears Prada? How Luxury Consumption Influences Prosocial Behavior.” 

Wang and two co-researchers provided women with a luxury product to use, such as a Prada handbag. They then presented the women with opportunities to exhibit prosocial behavior like donating money to charity. They discovered that the women gave less when donating money in private, but gave more when donating money in front of other people. 

“This research demonstrates that luxury consumption has a negative impact beyond the luxury user alone,” the researchers wrote. “Our work show that luxury consumption can also have negative consequences for the well-being of others because the lower levels of prosocial behavior triggered by luxury usage in our studies have negative effects for others. Such behaviors, which can be viewed as the societal costs of luxury consumption, are not only unexpected but are also unwelcome consequences of luxury usage.” 

What’s more, the researchers found that luxury products tend to boost an individual’s sense of their own social status, but only if the luxury product is perceived as rare and exclusive and is used in front of other people. 

“We uncover conditions under which luxury products boost people’s sense of status, which then alters their prosocial behavior,” explained the researchers. “In doing so, we help reconcile previous opposing findings regarding the effect of social status on prosocial behavior. Whereas luxury consumption generally promotes less prosocial tendencies, it leads to more prosocial behavior when such acts can enhance a person’s reputation.” 

So does the devil wear Prada? While this phrase implies that only wicked people wear and use luxury brands, the researchers’ findings suggest something else: wearing and using Prada can lead ordinary people to behave badly. 

“We repeatedly found that women wearing luxury products behaved less prosocially, including by sharing less money with others and donating less money to charity when no one was around to see it,” wrote the researchers. “Taken together, these findings provide novel evidence that using luxury goods affects how people feel and behave.”

Yajin Wang is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She teaches consumer behavior in the undergraduate program.

Research interests: Wang’s research focuses on the social aspects of luxury consumption and conspicuous consumption. Her research probes not only consumer perception, but also the psychological and behavioral consequences of using prestigious consumer goods.

Selected accomplishments: Her research has been published in Journal of Consumer Research and Psychological Science, and has been covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, BBC News, FOX News, and CNN.

Women Leading Research: Yajin Wang

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2018 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, starting with the seventh annual Women Leading Women forum on March 1, 2018.

Other fearless ideas from:  Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  T. Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Jessica M. Clark  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  | Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Jennifer Carson Marr  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Niratcha (Grace) Tungtisanont  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang

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About the Expert(s)

Professor Wang received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the Carlson School of Management at University of Minnesota in 2015. Her research focuses on luxury brands and conspicuous consumption, and social/ interpersonal influence on consumer's behavior. Her research has been published in Journal of Consumer Research and Psychological Science, and has been covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, BBC News, FOX News, and CNN. She teaches consumer behavior in the undergraduate program.

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