CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — Designer clothes, expensive watches and luxury cars that convey high status might actually deter new friends as people usually want to be friends with ones of more modest means, a new study of the University of Michigan (UM) shows.
In the study, 125 participants from a wealthy suburb were presented with one of two scenarios. Those in the presenter’s scenario picked between a luxury car or a basic car to drive to an outdoor wedding party where they could meet new friends, and those in the evaluator’s scenario indicated their reaction to someone arriving in either car.
Nearly two-thirds of the individuals in the presenter’s condition believed the luxury car would be more effective in making friends. However, this choice backfired from the perspective of the would-be friends, who expressed significantly less social interest in that individual; they expressed more social interest in the person with the basic car.
Another study asked people to choose from two plain T-shirts to wear to a picnic in their efforts to make new friends. One T-shirt had “Walmart” written on it in plain script, and the other T-shirt had “Saks Fifth Avenue” written on it in plain script. Seventy-six percent of the participants who were presenting themselves chose to wear the T-shirt with “Saks Fifth Avenue,” whereas 64 percent of the would-be friends chose the person wearing the “Walmart” T-shirt as a potential new friend.
“When trying to make new friendships, people think that high status symbols will make them look more socially attractive to potential friends. However, it turns out that potential friends are repelled by the high status symbols on others,” said Stephen Garcia, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of psychology and organizational studies at UM.
Researchers say that the findings only apply to the formation of new friendships.
The study has been published in the latest issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.