How Your Need to Belong Affects Your Economic Decisions

Posted by Lindsay Starke on Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 1:53PM

Which do you find more soothing: retail therapy or giving to charity? As much as your answer might say about your personality, it also may tell us how you feel about your social environment. New research suggests that feeling ignored by others may encourage conspicuous consumption, while feeling rejected may make us more likely to give our money or time to a good cause. Since different types of social exclusion leave us feeling outside the group for different reasons, the researchers surmise, our responses to that exclusion could also be affected by that different reasoning.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments that left people feeling either ignored or rejected, such as by having participants recall experiences in which they felt excluded, or by simulating social exclusion in online exchanges. Later, the researchers gave participants separate surveys on intended and actual behavior, asking about preferences for brand logos (to measure conspicuous consumption) and willingness to donate time or money to charity (to measure prosocial behavior).

"Being ignored increased preferences for clothing with conspicuous brand logos, but it had no effect on prosocial behavior," the authors write. "In contrast, being rejected increased prosocial behavior, but had no effect for clothing with conspicuous brand logos."

The researchers concluded that when the sense of belonging is threatened by rejection, we may unconsciously attempt to compensate with prosocial behavior, like volunteering, in order to reconnect with society. When our sense of importance, or ego, is threatened by being ignored, we then may use display and consumption in order to stand out. Our need to feel valued by the group certainly drives much of our behavior. It only makes sense that it would influence our economic decisions as well.

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