Testosterone increases men’s preference for status goods, study says

The research is the 1st to demonstrate a causal link between testosterone and rank-related consumer preference for status-enhancing goods

A recent study has shown that testosterone, the male sex hormone, increased men’s preference for status goods compared to goods of similar perceived quality, but seen as lower in status.

In a nutshell, the results are the first to demonstrate a causal link between testosterone and rank-related consumer preference for status-enhancing goods.

The research, driven by professors from INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration) and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, revealed that consumption of status goods like luxury products or experiences was partly driven by biological motives.

The results were the first to demonstrate that testosterone causally influences rank-related consumer preferences and that the effect was driven by consumers’ aspiration to gain status rather than power, or a general inclination for high quality goods, according to a statement from INSEAD.

The paper and its findings were published in Nature Communications. Hilke Plassmann, INSEAD chaired professor of decision neuroscience who led the research, said in the non-human species literature, some evidence highlights the link between testosterone and rank-related behaviour.

“In humans, testosterone levels can situationally increase in contexts related to social rank, during competitions and after winning them, or in the presence of an attractive mate,” he said.

The other key researcher was Gideon Nave, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School and the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative.

The statement said the team investigated whether and when consumers’ desire for status goods is bio- logically rooted, with a focus on the effect of testosterone on men’s desire for goods conveying status benefits, such as luxury products.

Basic research shows there is a fundamental need to signal one’s rank across species. Higher social rank brings individuals several significant advantages, such as mating opportunities or access to resources or social influence.

In human society, individuals often show their rank in the social hierarchy through economic consumption, in particular through possessing and displaying expensive, luxury brands, according to the statement.

To gain more insights on the role of testosterone on social rank and status-associated behaviour, a study was conducted involving 243 men of similar age and socio-economic background.

Randomly, half of them received a single dose of testosterone that mimicked a testosterone spike that could occur in an everyday situation, causing an increased testosterone level; the other half received a placebo treatment. All subjects then participated in two tasks.

In the first one, they were asked to choose between pairs of brands. The pairs were composed of brands that were all pretested to have polarised social rank associations, but did not differ in perceived quality. That is, one brand was seen to lift its owner much higher in the social hierarchy (like Calvin Klein) than the other (like Levi’s). For each pair, participants were asked “which brand do you prefer and to what extent?”, on a 10-point scale anchored with each brand.

The findings reveal that men who received the testosterone doses showed a higher preference for the status (positional) goods associated with higher social rank (such as a luxury brand). This suggests a causal link between testosterone and rank-related consumer preferences, according to the statement.

The researchers believe the findings may be useful for generating new hypotheses regarding contexts where positional or status consumption occurs.

As men experience situational elevation in testosterone during and following competitions such as sporting events or in the presence of attractive mates, male consumers may be more likely to engage in status consumption and find status-related communications more appealing at certain times, the statement added. — TMR