Conspicuous consumption of pricey status symbols, like designer clothes and accessories, may be viewed as self-centered, but new research shows that it may be a behavior that charities could use to their advantage.

In a study published recently in the journal Psychology and Marketing, researchers at the University of Central Florida found that when people used objects perceived as high-status, they donated more money to charity.

“Based on conventional wisdom, people may think that if someone engages in status consumption, it will probably decrease their charitable donation behavior,” says the study’s lead author Sona Klucarova ’20PhD, a graduate of UCF’s business administration–marketing doctoral program. “We find the opposite. Self-centered behavior can increase pro-social outcomes.”

Previous research studies have often positioned status consumption and charitable donations as polar opposites, but the researchers sought to explore if the two concepts influenced, rather than opposed, each other.

Through multiple studies the researchers found that status consumption led to increased charitable donations and that this process was driven by a sense of empowerment that consumers receive from consuming high-status goods.

The researchers ruled out alternative explanations for the donations, including wealth, guilt and self-presentation. They also found that just ownership of a high-status item wasn’t enough for charitable donations to be made. The high-status item also had to be used or consumed.

“The implication for charitable organizations is to try to induce high-status consumption during fundraising efforts,” Klucarova says. “This could involve things such as making potential donors use fancy pens at donation events or partnering with high-status brands.”

Xin He, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Marketing, was the study’s co-author and Klucarova’s adviser. He says teasing out what drives the connection between status consumption and charitable donations is what helps make the research unique.

“Throughout our research, we prioritize rigor in our overall approach,” He says. “For example, we demonstrated the effect and our theorizing in a total of seven studies, and we tested the empowerment mechanism using both mediation and moderation approaches.”

He studies behavioral decision making, particularly behaviors and decisions related to consumption. He says both he and Klucarova, who is now an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, will continue their work in this domain, including new studies on status consumption.

He joined UCF’s Department of Marketing, part of the College of Business, in 2004. He received his doctoral degree in business administration (marketing) from the University of Pittsburgh.

Study title: Status consumption and charitable donations: The power of empowerment