Does Simply Being Near A Luxury Store Turn People Into Unfeeling Jerks?

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Does where you shop influence how you treat others? According to one group of researchers, the very act of standing near luxury stores turned people into jerky jerkfaces who’d likely rather sniff the air and saunter off than help someone in need.

In “‘Wrong place to get help’: A field experiment on luxury stores and helping behavior”, published in the journal Social Influence, researchers explained three experiments they conducted in Paris to gauge whether luxury shopping areas made people awful, uncaring human beings. The answer they came up with? In short, yes.

One experiment took place on the Triangle d’Or, home to many of Paris’s high-end fashion stores. Researchers had a woman with a leg brace drop her snacks on the street and struggle to pick them up. Only 35% of people leaving one of the luxury stores helped her. But when researchers moved the experiment to a street with no stores, more than 77% helped her out.

Another experiment featured a woman asking people shopping on a street with all luxury shops, others on a street with both luxury and middle-priced stores, and a third group on a street with no shops if she could borrow the person’s phone. Only 41% of those on the fancy street handed their phone over, 63% on the street with both kinds of stores helped out, and 74% on the shopless street were willing to let her borrow it.

Researchers concluded that shoppers in or even standing near a luxury store were primed to be snobby with “environmental cues of materialism,” which then “increased self-enhancement and competitive values.” This all boils down to a decreased “trusting and benevolent behavior and a sense of being concerned about and connected to other people,” the authors write.

The authors add that one possible interpretation is that when you’re buying items of “basic necessity,” there’s no materialistic or selfish values attached to that to battle the values of benevolence and helpfulness. But when the sole purpose of buying something costly isn’t to use it but to show people that you can afford it, “consumption is its own end and can easily activate a materialistic mindset.”

If you’re reading this on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, take pause before you chuck your phone in our general direction: the study was conducted in Paris, not the U.S., so the authors’ conclusion that you’ll turn into a snob if you’re near fancy things might not translate. People weren’t asked about their levels of materialism after, either, so it can’t be connected definitively to their choice not to help.

(h/t MarketWatch)

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