Newswise — Although prior research has studied motivations behind purchasing luxury goods, little research has examined the actual societal effects of people using these luxury products. So how does luxury consumption dictate social behavior? 

According to newly published findings by Assistant Professor of Marketing Yajin Wang at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, women using a luxury product tend to exhibit selfish behavior such as sharing fewer resources than women using the same non branded product.

The work is published as “Does the Devil Wear Prada? How Luxury Consumption Influences Prosocial Behavior” by the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Co-authors Wang and University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management professors Deborah Roedder John and Vladas Griskevicious provided women with a Prada handbag to use. They then presented the women with opportunities to exhibit prosocial behavior like donating money to charity.

They discovered that the women gave less when donating money in private but gave more when donating money in front of other people. 

“This research demonstrates that luxury consumption has a negative impact beyond the luxury user alone,” say the authors. “Our work shows that luxury consumption can also have negative consequences for the well-being of others because the lower levels of prosocial behavior triggered by luxury usage in our studies have negative effects for others. Such behaviors, which can be viewed as the societal costs of luxury consumption, are not only unexpected but are also unwelcome consequences of luxury usage.” 

What’s more, the research found that luxury products tend to boost an individual’s sense of their own social status, but only if the luxury product is perceived as rare and exclusive and is used in front of other people. 

“We uncover conditions under which luxury products boost people’s sense of status, which then alters their prosocial behavior,” the authors say. “In doing so, we help reconcile previous opposing findings regarding the effect of social status on prosocial behavior. Whereas luxury consumption generally promotes less prosocial tendencies, it leads to more prosocial behavior when such acts can enhance a person’s reputation.” 

So does the devil wear Prada? While this phrase implies that only wicked people wear and use luxury brands, these findings suggest something else: wearing and using Prada can lead ordinary people to behave badly.

“We repeatedly found that women wearing luxury products behaved less prosocially, including by sharing less money with others and donating less money to charity when no one was around to see it,” say the authors. “Taken together, these findings provide novel evidence that using luxury goods affects how people feel and behave.”