Finally, science explains the scrunchie, parachute pants and those Silly Bandz the kids today are crazy about: You bought them (and your kids are buying them) because the cool kids have them. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research confirms what we already suspected -- people will buy really weird things in their quest to fit in.
"Social exclusion is a very painful experience, which makes it a strong motivator," explains Tyler Stillman, a visiting sociology professor at Southern Utah University, who is one of the study's co-authors.
In one experiment, researchers paired study participants with a partner who left midway through the study. Some of the participants believed their partners left because they didn't like them -- and those people were more easily talked into buying a silly school spirit trinket. In another study, people who felt excluded were more likely to say they were willing to try cocaine. Researchers say their findings could have real-life implications.
"I think people experience the threat of exclusion when they move to a new area, start a new job, or start college," says Kathleen D. Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota. "My hunch is that people in these circumstances are more likely to buy products that enable them to connect to their new social circumstances."
For example, for new college students, that could mean buying and wearing a hoodie with the name of the university on it.
"This trend is probably especially pronounced among people who experience difficulty gaining social acceptance in their new environment," says Vohs.
So, does it ever work? Can you really buy your way into a group of friends?
"Ha, well -- I do think it works sometimes," Vohs says. "We know from decades of data, that when people want to fit in, one great strategy is to mimic or be similar to others with whom they would like to be friends. So showing a would-be friend that you have the same spending patterns (tightwad or spendthrift) as she does is a great way to show her that you are similar, which is a generally effective strategy to be likable."
What's the dumbest or priciest (or both!) thing you've ever bought in a misguided attempt to fit in? Did it work?
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