News at Smith

Fearless Idea 26: Know the Power of Posh Labels

Mar 26, 2017
World Class Faculty & Research

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — High-priced luxury handbags are sometimes referred to as “statement pieces,” and for at least some women, the statement they’re making is: “Don’t even try to take my man.” For such women, luxury accessories, such as high-priced designer shoes and handbags, function as “a signaling system directed to other women who pose threats to their romantic relationships,” according to research from Yajin Wang, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Her research, which drew on evolutionary and cultural perspectives, found that a woman who felt the need to shield her mate from the affections of a rival often did so by seeking out and flaunting lavish possessions. “Whereas men use conspicuous luxury products to attract mates,” Wang says, “women use such products to deter female rivals.” 

Her co-author for the research paper, Conspicuous Consumption, Relationships, and Rivals: Women’s Luxury Products as Signals to Other Women, is Vladas Griskevicius at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. 

The research adds to Wang’s body of research, which examines how highly regarded luxury items affect their users. In her research, Wang often provides participants a chance to use a luxury item — in some instances a Prada or Louis Vuitton handbag — and then assesses whether the user demonstrates any psychological or behavioral changes.

Wang’s previous research has revealed that subjects who were asked to carry an upscale bag were found to be more likely to indulge their cravings for candy and less likely to donate to charity — except when doing so would gain them personal recognition. Wang’s research adds context to previous findings that luxury products can function to boost self-esteem, express identity and signal status by showing that the results are not always desirable.

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.

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2017 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, culminating with the sixth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 30, 2017.

Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  |  Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Rachelle Sampson  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  Cynthia Kay Stevens  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang  |  PhD Candidates

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.