Testosterone increases men’s preferences for status goods like luxury brands and services, according to a new study.
Researchers from INSEAD, a leading business school in France, recently conducted a study, the first of its kind, to find a biological link between consumer preferences and testosterone.
In the animal kingdom, having a higher social rank has many benefits including mating opportunities and more access to resources. Given the role of top “alpha” males in many species’ hierarchies, the researchers wanted to examine testosterone and rank in humans.
Owning luxury brand name goods is a way to position yourself in society, and the study shows that some of these choices for perceived better-quality products are driven by testosterone in males.
The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
“In the non-human species literature, some evidence highlights the link between testosterone and rank-related behavior. 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,” said Hilke Plassmann, an author of the study.
For the study, 243 men, all around the same age were split into two groups at random. One group was given a dose of testosterone and the other was given a placebo treatment.
After the testosterone was administered, the researchers gave the participants two tasks. For the first task, the men were asked to choose between pairs of brands and rank their preference for each. The brands’ products were similar quality but had different status associations.
Those who had received a boost of testosterone preferred the luxury and higher status brands.
For the second task, the researchers had a collected list of products from six different categories including coffee machines and luxury cars.
Each category had three different descriptions with similar wording but some of the wording highlighted the product in terms of status benefits, power benefits, or high quality.
The goal of the second task was to see to what extent testosterone influenced buying goods that signal power and status to others.
After the participants read through the descriptions, some in the form of advertisements, they were asked how much they liked the description and product.
In this experiment, testosterone influenced preferences for products that conveyed status but not power or quality.
The study provides an interesting context for looking at consumer choices and could help market research for optimal times to advertise status goods.
“I’ve always been struck by the variations in consumers’ appetite for luxury, with some markets or periods encouraging a “luxury fever” (e.g., urban areas, fast-developing markets such as China etc.) and others less so,” said Amos Nadler, a co-author of the study. “Our findings are exciting because they show that consumers’ drive for luxury may stem directly from differences in testosterone levels varying with the amount of social competition, population density, or male/female imbalance.”