The present work examines how experiencing high versus low power creates qualitatively distinct psychological motives that produce unique consumption patterns. Based on accumulating evidence that states of power increase focus on one's own internal desires, we propose that high power will lead to a greater preference for products that are viewed as offering utility (e.g., performance, quality) to the individual. In contrast, extending past research showing that powerlessness fosters a compensatory motive to restore power; we demonstrate that the powerless prefer visible or conspicuous consumption that signals status to others. Regardless of whether high and low power were measured, episodically primed, or structurally manipulated, and regardless of how consumption patterns were measured (e.g., purchasing intentions, consumer attitudes, or creation of one’s own advertising slogan), five experiments support a parsimonious model for how different levels of power impact consumer behavior. Given the pervasiveness of everyday fluctuations in power, and the governing role of consumption in everyday life, these findings have potentially broad implications, from tailored advertising to different market segments to understanding the rise in consumer debt.

Derek D. Rucker and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Full Citation

Rucker, Derek D. and Adam Galinsky
. “Conspicuous consumption versus utilitarian ideals: How different levels of power shape consumer behavior.”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
, (January 01, 2009):