Dress to impress? Workers wearing designer labels are less likely to be seen as team players

WASHINGTON- Modesty is the best teamwork policy. A new study by a team from the American Psychological Association reports that people who don’t show off their wealth and social status seem more cooperative and willing to collaborate with others.

Previous research has shown that people who are infatuated with luxury brands and their level of wealth seem more disciplined, intelligent and competent than those who don’t. However, flashing social symbols will not make you new friends. The new research suggests that co-workers perceive people with high social status as someone who cares more about their self-interest than helping others.

“It is generally accepted that signage status can strategically benefit people who want to appear premium – why else would people pay a premium for products with luxury logos that have no other functional benefit? But that can also backfire by making them seem more interested,” says lead researcher Shalena Srna, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, in a press release. “In situations social events that depend on cooperation, people often choose to present themselves more modestly.”

Neutrality is a winning strategy

In six different experiments, the research team recruited 395 participants online to scour their social media profiles and choose those they thought were cooperative, selfless, and generous enough to join their community. Study authors randomly selected participants to view modest or neutral social media profiles (with posts such as “I saw the cutest puppy today! #goldenretrievers”) or a profile that shouted “I have a high social status”. This profile would have similar neutral language, but would also contain messages about owning luxury cars, clothes, food or travel, such as “On the way to Madrid! #first class #luxury.

People who saw profiles that appeared to belong to high-status people were less likely to recommend them to join their group. They were also more likely to see the person as wealthier, only concerned about their status, and less caring about others.

A separate experiment involving 1,345 participants from three universities had people dreaming up an entirely new social media profile. The group had to choose what to wear for the profile picture. Study authors told participants that they were using the profile to enter an online group. However, only half knew that the group was looking for someone who seemed extremely cooperative. People had the choice of choosing luxury branded clothing such as Prada or Gucci and non-luxury branded clothing such as Sketchers or Old Navy, or non-branded clothing.

People who wanted to look like a cooperative team player were less likely to choose luxury clothing than those who didn’t. However, people in general were just as likely to wear non-luxury branded clothing whether or not they were aware of the group’s desire for a cooperative person.

“This experiment shows that people are aware of when the value of luxury logos shifts from positive to negative,” says Dr. Srna. “Not only are people strategic about when to signal their status, but they’re also strategic about modesty.”

Making an impression still works

Although modesty was desirable to look like a cooperative team player, there were some benefits to showing off your wealth. When participants knew the group was looking for a competitive team member, people were more likely to choose luxury brand clothing.

“Posting about your luxury purchases and expensive vacations on Instagram or TikTok can help you persuade others, intimidate competitors and succeed in the dating market – at least for men – but it could also signal to friends potential or future employers than you probably won’t. think about the needs of others,” says Dr. Srna. “It becomes a tricky balancing act for people who want to impress others while demonstrating they can be a ‘team player’.”

The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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