Since moving to Johannesburg from Pietermaritzburg, I have noticed the difference in the way people approach wealth. After reading an article from Business Insider, I really started thinking more about this. The article talked about how new friends may be turned off by status symbols such as flashy cars, fancy watches and expensive clothing. The ironic thing, is that, in my line of work, potential business contacts would probably find these exact status symbols appealing.
What does the research say?
According to a paper published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, status symbols (i.e. Tag Heuer watch) can repel friends, even while they attract business contacts. The researchers call it the “status signals paradox”, because participants in the studies incorrectly assumed that their fancy accessories would make them more appealing to potential friends.
In one study, university students were asked which of two people they’d prefer to have a “get-to-know-you” conversation with. Participants were less willing to choose a New Jersey native who was interested in hiking, running, and concerts when that person had a BMW and a Canada Goose jacket than when they had a Honda and a Gerry jacket.
Another study performed illustrated the importance of context. Adult participants were asked to imagine attending a wedding where they were hoping to make either new friends or new business contacts. In both contexts, most participants said they would drive a luxury car (as opposed to a basic car) to appeal to others. But, people were more likely to want business contacts who drove a luxury car than friends who drove a luxury car.
In a 2011 study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, participants were more likely to select hypothetical job applicants wearing a shirt with a brand-name logo than a shirt without a logo. This is because designer labels can make people seem wealthier and higher-status. This is further demonstrated in a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, finding that men who wear suits earn more money in mock negotiations than men dressed neutrally or in sweatpants.
And so, I ask you…
Should we alter our image depending on who we are trying to impress? And, if we do so does this mean that we are not being true to ourselves? Why do we discriminate against people who have nice things? Is it because we feel inferior? Jealous? Unable to match their status?
When you’re meeting with a potential client, feel free to bust out the bling. But when you’re trying to forge a new friendship, stick to the basics…or don’t. The other option is to wear your bling proudly because hey, you’ve probably earned it (unless you used your credit card to pay for it then that’s just not good money management and you need to come see me). At the end of the day, you should be able to stay true to who you are and do things that make you happy. If that means getting rid of the proverbial ‘haters’ and surrounding yourself with people who love and support you no matter what, then so be it.