Why Do We Buy Luxury Brands—and How Do They Make Us Feel?

A tale of two types of pride

Source: Why Do We Buy Luxury Brands—and How Do They Make Us Feel?

By Brent McFerran Ph.D.

Global demand for luxury goods is strong and rapidly growing, with over $200 billion in annual sales each year. Consumers purchase these goods for a variety of reasons, among them because they convey a sense of status, wealth, and exclusivity. These purchases lead others to make rapid inferences about the character of the purchaser (e.g., successful, arrogant, among many others). Further, using and displaying luxury products can elicit various feelings on the part of the user.

Drawing on recent research in social psychology on pride, in a recent paper with Karl Aquino and Jessica Tracy (both at the University of British Columbia), we show that there are two types (i.e., “facets”) of pride in consumption.

Interestingly, we demonstrate that the feeling which motivates a desire for luxury purchases (accomplishment, or what is termed “authentic pride”) is very different from the feeling that one derives from displaying those same products (snobbery, or what is called “hubristic pride”). In other words, the same emotion (pride) operates in two different ways. These findings shed new light on why consumers purchase luxury brands, highlighting a paradox: these purchases are sought out of heightened feelings of accomplishment (and not arrogance), but they instead signal arrogance to others (rather than accomplishment). Further, we show that these effects are generally more pronounced for those low in narcissism.

These conclusions were based on the results of seven experiments. In some, participants were asked to recall a luxury brand or a non-luxury brand they own, and we assessed how much of each facet of pride they felt. Those who recalled luxury goods felt snobbier (hubristic pride), but not more accomplished (authentic pride), showing the former facet of pride stems from luxury consumption. Another version of the study had other people rate a luxury brand user (or a non-luxury one). People judged the luxury brand consumer as more snobbish, but not more accomplished.

However, in other studies, we gave participants a task designed to make them feel authentic or hubristic pride, or a control task. We then assessed their desire to purchase luxury and non-luxury branded items. This time, those who felt accomplished had a higher desire to purchase luxury goods than those who felt hubristic pride, suggesting that feelings of accomplishment are a stronger motivator of luxury consumption than feeling snobbish. In another variant, we measured how accomplished and snobbish participants chronically felt; higher levels of accomplishment were associated with a higher desire for luxury goods.

This research has implications for companies selling luxury goods, or wish to market products as such. Luxury brands are sometimes positioned in a manner associating them with snobbery, for instance contrasting their wearers with laborers of lower status professions. Others, such as Rolex’s “A crown for every achievement”, suggests its product is a marker of accomplishment. Our research shows that although consumers indeed associate luxury goods with both accomplishment and snobbery, the former is more motivating in creating consumer desire.

Beyond purveyors of luxury goods, the growing obsession among some consumers to acquire luxury brands, particularly when they cannot reasonably afford them, is also a concern. For those interested in helping consumers better regulate their expenditures and avoid additional debt, our results speak to the psychological factors that motivate consumers to buy products that may make their lives economically precarious.

Full paper:

McFerran, Brent, Karl Aquino, and Jessica L. Tracy (in press, 2014), “Evidence For Two Facets of Pride In Consumption: Findings From Luxury Brands”, Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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Word of Mouth Still Rules for Brand Advocacy

Users of social media websites are less likely to use them to say positive things about their favorite products and services and instead are more likely to express their opinions about products in intimate face-to-face social situations.

Credit: Racorn/Shutterstock

Source: Word of Mouth Still Rules for Brand Advocacy

By Chad Brooks, Business News Daily Senior Writer

 

Even if consumers really like a product or service, they’re not likely to share those feelings on Facebook or Twitter, new research suggests.Instead, social media users are more likely to express their opinions about products in face-to-face social situations, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Researchers said this is because most users usually have a wide range of friends or followers on social media sites, and may not feel as comfortable expressing their opinions to these connections as they would with their close family members and friends. This lack of close connection, as well as their vulnerability to adverse comments, often deters people from sharing their opinions about brands on social media sites, the researchers said.

Andreas Eisingerich, a researcher at the Imperial College Business School in London and a co-author of the study, said that social media websites such as Facebook have completely revolutionized the way consumers share information and communicate with one another.

“Our report shows that when it comes to sharing recommendations on products and services on these sites, users tend to stay quiet,” Eisingerich said. “They would rather communicate via word of mouth because many users don’t want to embarrass themselves online, as work colleagues or acquaintances may not endorse or appreciate the same products that they do.”

As part of the study, the researchers surveyed 407 participants in labs and face-to-face surveys to find out how they communicated about their favorite brands. They found that the participants were reluctant to endorse products on social media sites due to the perceived risk that they could embarrass themselves if their views were not endorsed or shared by others. On the flip side, sharing information in face-to-face situations among a smaller group of people, usually family and friends, doesn’t have the same social pressures, the researchers said.

The researchers also discovered that the study participants who did share their opinions about their favorite products and services did so because it made them feel good about themselves, and that it raised their self-esteem. They found that as users’ need to enhance their self-esteem increased, so did their willingness to share their views.

The study’s authors suggested that their findings could be used by social media companies and marketers to take steps to ensure that consumers don’t feel threatened by these online social risks. These steps include providing opportunities for consumers to selectively share their opinions with members of their social network.

“Our report could influence how businesses spend advertising budgets on social media websites,” Eisingerich said.

The study was co-authored by researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; the Leeds University Business School in the United Kingdom; the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California; and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

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The secret of successful shopping: Buy things that give ‘experiences’

Scientists say we should buy things that give us ‘experiences’ – and sports equipment, musical instruments and video games should be top of the list

Treating yourself to a new set of sports gear could be the key to happy shopping, researchers say

Source: The secret of successful shopping: Buy things that give ‘experiences’

By MARK PRIGG FOR MAILONLINE

While many would claim that a pair of Louboutins are the key to shopping nirvana, experts say that in fact, sneakers or a video game might make you happier.

Researchers found that buying things that provide you with experiences is key.

They say musical instruments, sports gear and even video games can all make us content than simply splurging on a new pair of shoes.

The University of Michigan and San Francisco State University study examined consumers’ reactions to ‘experiential’ products – purchases that combine material items and life experiences – on their well-being.

Previous research compared how happy people feel from obtaining material items, purchases made in order ‘to have’, and from life experiences, purchases made in order ‘to do.’

Purchases that people make ‘to have in order to do’ would include video games, sports equipment or musical instruments, the team say.

Mastering a skill or ability by buying a musical instrument can lead to happy shoppers, researchers say

Mastering a skill or ability by buying a musical instrument can lead to happy shoppers, researchers say

Darwin Guevarra, a doctoral candidate in the U-M Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author, said experiential products offer more well-being than material items because they satisfy a person’s autonomy (behaviors to express one’s identity), competence (mastering a skill or ability) and relatedness (having a sense of belonging with others).

Guevarra and colleague Ryan Howell, a researcher at San Francisco State University, asked the study’s respondents to describe a recent purchase and the happiness it afforded.

The purchases were placed in three groups: material items, experiential products and life experiences.

Bad news for Louboutins: Eating out, going to a concert or traveling was better than buying clothes

Bad news for Louboutins: Eating out, going to a concert or traveling was better than buying clothes

The findings indicate that experiential products provide the same level of well-being as life experiences and more well-being than material items.

Life experiences (eating out, going to a concert or traveling) provided more well-being than material items (book, jewelry, clothes).

‘When we first wanted to explore this hybrid category of experiential products, we believed that even if it provided more happiness than material items, it would consistently be less than life experiences,’ Guevarra said.

‘We were surprised with the finding that experiential products afforded similar levels of happiness as life experiences.’

While material items and experiential products are both tangible goods, the researchers say, the latter satisfies greater psychological need of competence because it often requires consumers to utilize some sort of skill or ability.

The findings appear in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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Can You Resist Temptation? Recalling Times You Demonstrated Self-Control Can Affect Your Future Choices

Recalling your last shopping spree could lead you to repeat the behavior.

Shopping Spree

From: https://www.medicaldaily.com/can-you-resist-temptation-recalling-times-you-demonstrated-self-control-can-affect-345976 

By

Conventional wisdom advises us to be conscious of past mistakes — lest we be doomed to repeat them. This adage might hold true for many things, but according to a new study, self-control issues probably aren’t included. For preventing future lapses in self-control, simply remembering our past failures won’t do any good — though remembering instances where we successfully resisted temptation could be useful.

“Despite the common belief that remembering our mistakes will help us make better decisions in the present, we actually find that thinking about our failures at self-control leads us to repeat them and indulge in the present, so it’s not helpful at all,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Hristina Nikolova, an assistant professor of Marketing in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, in a press release.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, was the first of its kind and included experiments conducted over a span of four years. Study authors looked at the specific content participants recalled when asked about past situations in which self-control was a factor, and how the content of their memories influenced possible future behaviors. The dilemmas categorized as self-control issues included time budgeting, money budgeting, and persistence on challenging tasks.

One of the experiments, for example, asked participants to recall times where they faced a spending temptation — wanting to splurge on an unnecessary designer bag, perhaps — and whether or not they were able to resist the temptation (a self-control success) or if they succumbed (self-control failure). Some participants were asked to recall two of these instances, while some were asked to come up with 10.

After this, subjects were instructed to imagine that they were at a shopping mall and indicate how much credit card debt they’d be willing to take on in order to buy something they had wanted for a long time. Results showed that participants who had been asked to recall 10 successes were willing to incur about 21 percent more debt than those who recalled two. The groups of participants that recalled their failures were just as likely to incur as much debt as those who had recalled 10 successes.

Overall, the experiments pointed to one conclusion — consumers more successfully resisted temptation when they could easily reflect on times in the past that they demonstrated self-control.

“For example, when people recall two past successes at self-control (e.g., instances when they resisted spending money on unnecessary items), these instances come to mind easily,” Nikolova said. “It is relatively easy for everyone to think of two such successes. This ease of recall makes people believe that that they are good at self-control, they are the kind of person who can resist temptations, and since people usually want to be consistent with their views of themselves, they restrain again in tempting situations in the present.”

When subjects were asked to come up with 10 successes, however, they experienced difficulty in recalling so many examples. This struggle led them to conclude that they must not be that good at self-control, considering that they couldn’t come up with the required number of examples. This showed that sometimes, remembering less can be more. Somewhat counterintuitively, recalling only a couple past successes helped to restrain participants in the present more than if they were forced to remember more.

Even more unexpectedly, individuals that remembered failed attempts at self-control were likely to repeat them. Researchers found that participants who recalled their self-control failures were likely to indulge regardless of how many occasions they were asked to come up with.

“When we have to think about our failures — that puts us in a negative mood and research has shown that when people are in a negative mood state, they tend to indulge to make themselves feel better,” Nikolova said.

This research could benefit real world marketers attempting to design programs and interventions for those struggling with issues like credit card debt and unhealthy eating. Many current campaigns against self-control issues like gambling follow the traditional advice — remember your failures to ensure better behavior in the future.

According to the study, though, this could be undesirable.

“We show that while recalling successes seems like a good idea, in cases when such recall is difficult, this strategy may backfire,” the study concluded. “Further, compared to easy recall of successes, recalling failures does little to enhance self-control, despite conventional wisdom that one learns from their past mistakes. In fact, our results instead argue that focusing on one’s past mistakes may doom us to repeat them. Given that many factors may lead interventions and help programs to fail, every ‘nudge’ matters — we hope that identifying this danger of recall may help design more effective programs.”

Source: Nikolova H, et al. Haunts or Help From The Past:Understanding The Effect Of Recall On Current Self Control. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 2015.

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Our Moods Have A Surprising Effect On Just About Everything We Do

What people read, what they buy, and how they act.

Reuters/Neil Hall

Source: Our Moods Have A Surprising Effect On Just About Everything We Do

By 

In April of 2014, scientists from Georgia Tech and Yahoo Labs reported that something strange was manipulating online restaurant reviews. It wasn’t hackers. It wasn’t software bugs. It was rain, snow, and sunshine.

After looking at more than 1 million online reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, they found that restaurants received significantly better ratings on days with nice weather and worse reviews on any day with rain. “The best reviews are written on sunny days between 70 and 100 degrees,” researcher Saeideh Bakhshi concluded. “A nice day can lead to a nice review. A rainy day can mean a miserable one.”

In short: Yelp reviews are accidental weather reports.

A low-pressure movement pushing cumulus clouds above a certain zip code should not affect the seasoning of a steak served there. It does, however, affect a person’s mood. It shapes how the individual feels when he enters the restaurant, confronts the host, consults with the waiter, tastes the steak, and grabs his umbrella to leave. Research going back decades has consistently shown that cloudy weather puts people in a huff, and huffy patrons leave worse reviews.

This isn’t just another reason to distrust restaurant criticism. It’s a reason to distrust ourselves. Far from rational consumers, most people are unwitting servants of fleeting moods.

Before continuing, I’ll acknowledge that moods might seem like an unsophisticated subject for serious research. They strike at random and often pass in minutes. People typically shrug them off, along the lines of “oh I’m just in a bad mood,” or “my boss is in a weird mood.”

But the reason moods matter is precisely that they are so present. Since humans are terrible at thinking about the future, they make lots of decisions on the basis of how they feel, here and now, rather than how they’re likely to feel in the future. New Years puts a person in a forward-thinking mood, which results in hundreds on a gym membership. Birthdays encourage thinking about today, which licenses indulgence.

Moods, despite their short lifespans, shape a person’s attention, his entertainment, and his choices.

Negative moods can lead to a procrastination doom loop, in which an individual perpetually delays important tasks while waiting for an angel of inspiration to visit. Negative moods can lead to other doom loops, too. Optimistic and happy people are associated with higher incomes, more successful social interactions, and longer lives. Does the physical experience of happiness confer magical health benefits? Perhaps. But a popular explanation for the happy and successful is that positive moods can make the person exquisitely sensitive to rewards in an environment. A good mood heightens the benefits of going to the gym, eating raw kale, and doing favors for friends. A foul mood makes the individual exquisitely aware of all the downsides of these activities—the sweat, and bitterness, and the hours hauling couches up flights of stairs.

But there are some moderate upsides to bad moods: They heighten attention to detail. “If attention is like a spotlight, then a good mood will widen that spotlight, while a negative mood will focus it very tightly,” said Adam Anderson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. If attention is a filter, good feelings widen the mouth, opening up to all sorts of stimuli, which helps with free association and creativity.

But “that kind of broad or diffuse attention can be detrimental in situations that demand a laser-like focus,” Anderson said. Positive moods inspire faster and more creative thoughts, but fast thinking isn’t always suitable for every task. For this reason, if a day includes both brainstorm sessions and Excel work, science would advise playing happy music before the group session and transitioning to a moodier fare for the detail-heavy work.

Moods can also determine the sort of products that a person finds interesting. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology investigated how happiness affects consumer choice. There are two main flavors of happiness, the researchers said: a present-based happiness, which feels like calmness, and a future-based happiness, which feels like excitement. These flavors evolve as a person ages. One study of 70,000 instances of happiness on blogs showed the meaning of happiness evolving over time from excitement when people are young to peacefulness when they old.

In one of their studies, Cassie Mogilner and other researchers primed participants to think about the future or the present with word scrabbles. Then they were offered two brands of water, one called Pure Calm and one called Pure Excitement. Prompting consumers to think about the here-and-now made them significantly more likely to prefer a product that promised calmness.

happiness   Mogilner et al

Finally, moods shape media consumption and consumers’ appetite to be challenged by new entertainment.

Norbert Schwarz is one of the country’s top psychologists studying metacognition, or the “feeling of thinking.” Across a range of subjects, he says, most people are attracted to stimuli that are easy to process—like familiar names, symmetrical designs, and simpler melodies—because people conflate the ease of thinking with quality and comfort. This is especially true, Schwarz told me, when people are in a foul mood. “When you’re in a bad mood, you want to see your old friends,” he told me, “not meet new people. When you’re stressed out, you’re not putting on the new movies. You want the [TV] re-runs. They relax you.”

When Jonah Peretti founded BuzzFeed, he declared it was for the “bored at work” crowd, which is, almost by definition, floundering in foul moods. “Sad moods signal problematic environments that enhance [our] appreciation of familiar and safe stimuli,” Schwarz wrote in his review of metacognition. No wonder some of BuzzFeed’s most popular stories are so familiar, they are practically mirrors held up to their readers (e.g.: What Friends Character Are You?27 Things About Being 27). Say what you will about BuzzFeed, but it is clearly optimized for the attention mood of its audience.

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The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples

Mini pizza bagels? Now we’re talking.

PAUL SAKUMA/AP

Source: The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples

By 

In 2010, a Minnesotan named Erwin Lingitz was arrested in a Supervalu grocery store after spending an excessive amount of time at the deli counter. In the words of a Supervalu spokesperson, Lingitz had violated “societal norms and common customer understanding regarding free-sample practices.” While the charges were later dropped, the evidence remains incriminating: After a search, Lingitz was found to have stored in his pockets about a dozen soy sauce packets and “1.46 pounds of summer sausage and beef stick samples.”

Lingitz may have gotten carried away, but his impulse is more or less universal. People love free, people love food, and thus, people love free food. Retailers, too, have their own reasons to love sampling, from the financial (samples have boosted sales in some cases by as much as 2,000 percent) to the behavioral (they can sway people to habitually buy things that they never used to purchase).

There’s no brand that’s as strongly associated with free samples as Costco. People have been known to tour the sample tables at Costco stores for a free lunch, acquired piecemeal. There are even personal-finance and food bloggerswho’ve encouraged the practice. Costco knows that sampling, if done right, can convince people that its stores are fun places to be. (Penn Jillette, of the magic act Penn & Teller, has on more than one occasion taken a woman on a date at a Costco warehouse.)

“When we compare it to other in-store mediums … in-store product demonstration has the highest [sales] lift,” says Giovanni DeMeo of the product-demonstration company Interactions, a department of which handles Costco’s samples. That department is Club Demonstration Services, and it—not Costco—staffs the sample tables.

While DeMeo insists that the short-term spike in sales isn’t the only effect of product sampling that matters—it’s great for making customers loyal to stores and brands over longer periods of time—the figures are impressive. In the past year, Interactions’ beer samples at many national retailers on average boosted sales by 71 percent, and its samples of frozen pizza increased sales by 600 percent. (These figures are in line with the few others that are publicly available.)


Average Percentage Increase in Sales After Product Samples in the Past Year, by Product Type

DATA COURTESY OF INTERACTIONS

It’s true that free samples help consumers learn more about products, and that they make retail environments more appealing. But samples are operating on a more subconscious level as well. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” says Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University. “If somebody does something for you”—such as giving you a quarter of a ravioli on a piece of wax paper—“you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”

Ariely adds that free samples can make forgotten cravings become more salient. “What samples do is they give you a particular desire for something,” he says. “If I gave you a tiny bit of chocolate, all of a sudden it would remind you about the exact taste of chocolate and would increase your craving.”


Percentage of Shoppers Who Purchased Items Being Sampled, by Product

HEILMAN ET AL.

Plenty of marketing research has been done on the fruits of retail strategies like couponing and loyalty cards, but the literature on free samples is relatively sparse. One narrowly applicable study from 1978, for example, found that samples were more likely to cause obese customers to purchase something than customers of normal weight.

A 2011 study in the British Food Journal sought to illuminate the lucrative but uncharted (at least in the academic literature) practice of putting out free samples. The researchers surveyed shoppers at a grocery store on six different weekends, and their findings color in a detailed picture of the mechanisms that underlie free samples.

For starters, about three-quarters of people surveyed took a free sample when offered one. And those who did take a sample were more likely to have taken other samples than those who didn’t—which suggests that people are driven to samples more by their dispositions than by their perceptions of a product’s relevance to them. Interestingly, people who took samples were less likely than non-samplers to have graduated from college.

This 2011 study also highlighted the importance of making sure a demo table doesn’t go unattended. “Samplers with a heightened awareness of the presence of others at the sampling station may feel a level of social ‘pressure’ to make a post-sample purchase,” the researchers wrote. Shoppers might feel they owe the demonstrator something—reinforcing Ariely’s point about reciprocity—but they also felt the need to right a perceived karmic imbalance when they were accompanied at the table only by other shoppers.

All of this makes for a potent combination for Costco: People come to their stores to some extent because it’s fun, and then a variety of psychological mechanisms kick in, compelling them to buy more products over a longer period of time. (Costco declined multiple requests for comment.)

Costco’s prepared-food departments also appear, to some extent, to be designed with the purpose of making the stores destinations. In 1985, Costco opened its first in-store hot-dog cart, and the price of a hot-dog-and-soda combo has remained $1.50 since then. Even with prices like this, the food courts still manage to make a profit, and in 2009, Costco sold 90 million hot dogs.

Now, the stores serve pizza as well, and—given that there were 468 U.S. Costco locations at last count—if it weren’t considered a retailer, Costco would be number 11 on the list of the biggest pizzerias in the U.S., just ahead of Round Table. And calling it a pizzeria might not be too much of a stretch: Families often go to Costco warehouses for a cheap lunch, and sometimes don’t do any shopping. “The more positive experiences people have with Costco, the more likely they are, presumably, to shop at Costco, to bring up Costco in conversation,” says Art Carden, a professor of economics at Samford University.

Costco’s samples and food courts get customers in the door, but it appears that their reliance on product-demonstration contractors allows them to help the bottom line in some less savory ways. The company is known for its generous benefits package—health care, vision, dental, and 401(k)s for just about everyone—but employees of Club Demonstration Services don’t seem quite so lucky.

The North Bay Bohemian, a San Francisco Bay Area alt-weekly, reported in 2008 that many CDS employees received a much more limited benefits package and were paid 20 percent less per hour compared with Costco employees. The Bohemian estimated that these employees represented 10 percent of Costco’s workforce. CDS, meanwhile, has no clients other than Costco—which makes the CDS-Costco salary disparity look pretty groundless. This stain, though, does little to taint people’s conception of Costco, and all of the fun that a trip there entails.

JOE PINSKER is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers families and education.
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The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

Researchers find the symbolic act of emptying a receptacle can impact our behavior, and not for the better.

(Photo: Loban Alex/Shutterstock)

 

Source: The Strong Symbolic Power of Emptying Pockets

By

Consider, for a moment, the word “empty.” It doesn’t convey anything positive, does it? Empty wallet. An empty suit. Empty promises.

The very concept is enough to put one in a churlish, self-centered mood. And according to newly published research from Israel, that’s exactly what it does.

In a series of experiments, people who emptied a receptacle—anything from a jar to a coat pocket—were subsequently more likely to eat snack foods, and less likely to provide help to others.

According to a research team led by Liat Levontin of Technion–the Israel Institute of Technology, the results provide evidence of our largely unconscious but “deep concern for not having sufficient resources.” It seems this form of anxiety is strong enough to directly influence our behavior, even when triggered indirectly.

“THE FEAR OF RESOURCE DEFICIENCY IS SO DEEP-ROOTED THAT MERELY WATCHING SOMEONE ENGAGE IN THE ACT OF EMPTYING IS SUFFICIENT TO TRIGGER A FOCUS ON THE SELF, WHICH HAS PROFOUND INFLUENCE ON A WIDE RANGE OF SEEMINGLY UNRELATED BEHAVIORS.”

In the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Levontin and her colleagues Daniet Ein-Gar and Angela Lee describe six studies in which participants either engaged in, or observed, an act of emptying. One particularly intriguing experiment featured 53 university students who were asked to try on a coat.

One group of students “were asked to fill the coat pockets with as many items at they could from an assortment of items placed on a table, such as a mobile phone, pens, pencils, keys, gloves, etc.,” the researchers write. Another group “were asked to completely empty the coat pockets and put all the items on the table.” After they finished either filling or emptying its pockets, each participant wore the coat for a few minutes, purportedly so they could evaluate it.

Afterwards, all were told donations were being collected for the Cancer Society, and they were free to give money to the charity if they wished. They were also told they could help themselves to some candy “as a token of appreciation for their participation.”

The results: Those who emptied the coat pockets gave less money to the Cancer Society than those who filled it. They also “were more likely to help themselves to the candy bowl.”

Two additional studies found a similar effect was produced from merely observing a bag being emptied. “The fear of resource deficiency is so deep-rooted that merely watching someone engage in the act of emptying is sufficient to trigger a focus on the self, which has profound influence on a wide range of seemingly unrelated behaviors,” the researchers write.

Levontin and her colleagues suggest we shouldn’t be too surprised by these results, noting that the fear of depleted resources can be found in ancient texts ranging from Aesop’s Fables to the Old Testament. “One of the first stories in the Bible,” they write, “speaks about man’s exile from a haven that offered infinite resources and a worry-free existence.”

Still, it’s striking to find that even symbolic reminders of emptiness are sufficient to inspire us to conserve our resources and curb our generosity. Perhaps to encourage donations, charities would be wise to offer up token gifts that make us feel resource-rich.

Something that slips neatly into a coat pocket might be ideal.

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