An extra shot of testosterone, it seems, makes a man prone to making showy displays of his power.
For American men, research suggests that this testosterone-driven display of prowess finds its expression in a preference for status goods.
This pursuit of status in the choice of manufactured goods is called “positional consumption.” It’s been a hot topic among evolutionary psychologists, and is finding its way into the study of marketing.
Researchers from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania administered a supplemental dose of testosterone to a large group of men, and then asked them to look at pictures and descriptions of five pairs of items — including watches, jeans and jackets — and judge which one they preferred.
The pairings were composed to present the men with a choice between products that varied on three dimensions: status, power and quality. For example, if the item was a watch, he’d be asked whether he preferred one touted as highly resilient and sporty (powerful) or one billed as luxurious and prestigious (high status). In judging a pair of jeans, he might be asked to choose between a pair that’s well-made and long-wearing (quality) and a pair described as a benchmark for fashionable style (status).
The study’s 243 subjects ranged in age from 18 to 55. In those years, testosterone levels vary widely from man to man. But they tend to wax and wane in predictable patterns not yet perturbed by advancing age.
When some of the men were issued a testosterone gel and asked to rub it over their upper body, their testosterone levels rose. Men who were given a placebo gel experienced no notable change.
Overall, the men who got testosterone expressed more positive attitudes toward goods described as “status-enhancing.” But when these men were faced with a choice between powerful and high-quality goods, they showed no clear preferences.
Meanwhile, men who got the placebo tended to choose the powerful and high-quality versions of the goods they saw over the high-status versions.
The authors cautioned that the experiment might have turned out differently if the men were not American.
The authors of the study published in the journal Nature Communications suggested some potentially target-rich circumstances for the sale of luxury items. “Men experience situational elevation in (testosterone) during and following sporting events, in the presence of attractive mates, and following meaningful life events such as graduation and divorce,” they said. “Our results suggest that in such contexts, male consumers might be more likely to engage in positional consumption, and might find status-related brand communications more appealing.”