Nav: Home

Testosterone causes men to desire luxury goods

July 03, 2018

Some men, it seems, can't get enough of luxury goods like European sports cars or designer jeans. Now, scientists have figured out why: testosterone.

A new study shows that testosterone has a measurable effect on a man's preference for brands that are considered to be status symbols. For instance, a man with a higher level of testosterone in his body will be more likely than a man with lower testosterone levels to prefer a pair of Calvin Klein jeans over a pair of Levi's.

That makes sense, says Caltech's Colin Camerer, one of the authors of the study that appears in the July 3 edition of Nature Communications, because one of the primary functions of testosterone is to generate both status-seeking and status-protecting behaviors.

"In the animal kingdom, testosterone promotes aggression, but the aggression is in service of status," says Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics and the T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience Leadership Chair. "A lot of human behaviors are repurposed behaviors seen in our primate relatives. So, here, we're replacing physical aggression with a sort of 'consumer' aggression."

The study--conducted by researchers from Caltech, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Western Ontario, and ZRT Laboratory--gets to the biological heart of what we call conspicuous consumption, the human practice of acquiring and showing off luxury goods and services to increase one's social status. Camerer likens the costs of this behavior to the cost and weight of the elaborate tails carried around by male peacocks.

"If it didn't need to attract mates, a peacock would be better off without its tail. It would be easier for the peacock to escape from predators and easier for it to find food if it wasn't carrying that tail around," he says. "In biology, that's known as costly signaling. A human male would probably be better off not spending $300,000 on a car but, by buying that car, he's showing people that he's wealthy enough that he can."

The study included 243 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 who were randomly selected to receive a dose of testosterone gel or placebo gel that would absorb through their skin. They were sent home and asked to return to the lab about four hours later, when testosterone levels in their blood would be near peak. Upon returning, they participated in tasks designed to gauge their preferences for different types of goods.

The first task presented participants with a 10-point scale that had a brand associated with high social status at one end and a brand with lower social status but otherwise equivalent quality at the other end. They were asked to move a slider toward the brand they preferred with the slider's proximity to the brand indicating how strong their preference was.

The data the researchers collected during this task showed that the men who received a dose of testosterone had a stronger preference for the luxury brands than did the men who received the placebo.

The second task was designed to tease apart testosterone's effect on the desire for luxury good from other potential effects, like an increased desire for high-quality goods or for goods that evoked a sense of power.

The task presented the study participants with a series of ads for consumer goods such as a car, a pair of sunglasses, or a coffee machine. The participants were randomly presented with one of three versions of an advertisement for each item, with each version of the ad emphasizing either the item's quality, luxuriousness, or power. After reviewing the ad, they were asked to rate their attitude toward that item on a scale of 1-10.

The data from this task--as with the first task--showed that men who received a dose of testosterone had a stronger preference for luxury goods than men who received the placebo. There was no corresponding increase in preference for goods that were advertised as powerful or higher in quality.

"In our closest animal kin, males spend a lot of time and energy fighting to establish dominance. We do, too, but our weapons are what we wear, drive, and live in rather than claws, fists, and muscles," Camerer says.
-end-
The Nature Communications paper describing the study is titled, "Single-Dose Testosterone Administration Increases Men's Preference for Status Goods." Other authors include Gidi Nave of The Wharton School, David Dubois of INSEAD, David Zava of ZRT Laboratory, and Hilke Plassmann of INSEAD and the Sorbonne University. Funding and support for the study was provided by INSEAD, the MacArthur Foundation, Ivey Business School, the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, and the Russell Sage Foundation.

California Institute of Technology

Related Testosterone Articles:

ACP issues guideline for testosterone treatment in adult men with age-related low testosterone
Physicians should prescribe testosterone for men with age-related low testosterone only to treat sexual dysfunction, the American College of Physicians (ACP) says in a new evidence-based clinical practice guideline.
Women with asthma appear more likely to have lower levels of testosterone
Women with asthma appear more likely to have lower levels of 'free' (not attached to proteins) testosterone than women who do not have asthma, according to new research published online in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Penis development needs more than just testes and testosterone
Proper development of the fetal penis requires not just testosterone from the testes, but a second hormone produced by other tissues, including the placenta, according to a new study publishing Feb.
Testosterone treatment over 10 years can improve or reverse type 2 diabetes in men with low testosterone, and induce significant weight loss
New research presented at this year's annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) reveals that in men with low testosterone who have type 2 diabetes (T2D), testosterone therapy can improve their disease and reverse its progress, and can also induce significant weight loss.
Testosterone replacement therapy may slow the progression of COPD
GALVESTON, Texas -- Researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that testosterone replacement therapy may slow disease progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Testosterone research brings new hope for cancer patients
Approximately 20 percent of cancer related deaths are attributed to the syndrome of cachexia.
Testosterone prescriptions have sharply dropped in the past few years
Testosterone use in the United States tripled between 2001 and 2011, mostly in men without a clear indication for it.
Use of prescribed testosterone therapy in US decreases in recent years
Testosterone use in the United States tripled from 2001 through 2011, mostly in men without a clear indication.
Testosterone causes men to desire luxury goods
Researchers examine testosterone's effect on men's desire for goods that are considered to have social cachet.
Men's testosterone levels largely determined by where they grow up
Men's testosterone levels are largely determined by their environment during childhood, according to new research.
More Testosterone News and Testosterone Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.