Moneyism: How shopping at fancy stores alters your personality
Where you shop can influence how nice you are to others.
People who shop at — or even stand near — luxury stores are significantly less likely than others to help those in need, according to a series of three experiments published in 2016 in the journal Social Influence.
In the first experiment — which took place on the Triangle d’Or in Paris, which is lined with high-end fashion shops — the researchers had a woman wearing a leg brace drop a package of candy and a bottle of water and struggle to pick them up. Just 35% of people who were leaving one of the luxury stores on the street helped the woman pick those items up. Meanwhile, when the researchers replicated the experiment on a street that wasn’t lined with shops, more than 77% of people helped the injured woman.
The second experiment took place on the place Vendome in Paris, which is lined with high-end jewelry and watch shops. The luxury shoppers on this street were asked by a woman pushing another woman in a wheelchair if they’d mind watching her disabled friend, who wasn’t able to sit alone, for a few minutes while she ran back into a store to get her cellphone. Just 23% of the people who were walking down the luxurious place Vendome agreed to stand with the woman in the wheelchair, while 82% of people walking down a residential street agreed to help.
In the final experiment, a woman asks pedestrians — some shopping on a street with all luxury stores, others on a street with both luxury and middle-priced shops (though the pedestrians were approached when they were near the middle-priced shops) and others on a street with no shops — if they can borrow the person’s cellphone. Just 41% of those on the luxury street lent the woman their phone, while 63% of those on the street with both luxury and middle-range stores did, and 74% of those on an ordinary street did.
From these three experiments, the researchers concluded that shopping in or being near a luxury store likely primed people with “environmental cues of materialism,” which then “increased self-enhancement and competitive values” which, in turn, decreased “trusting and benevolent behavior and a sense of being concerned about and connected to other people,” the authors write. In other words, the luxury stores made people feel more materialistic and self-centered, which meant they were less likely to help other people.
There are limitations to this research. For one, the study was conducted in Paris, so its findings may not be applicable to U.S. luxury shoppers. Plus, the author’s hypothesis that it was the materialistic cues from the luxury stores that caused people to be less helpful cannot be proven, since the luxury shoppers were not asked about their levels of materialism. (Though other research — including a 1992 study published in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology — does show that high levels of materialism correlate with lower levels of selflessness and concern for others.)