Men who cannot get enough of luxury goods like sports cars or designer jeans may have high levels of testosterone to blame, suggests new research.
The authors explained that one of the primary functions of the male sex hormone, testosterone, is to generate both status-seeking and status-protecting behaviour.
"In the animal kingdom, testosterone promotes aggression but the aggression is in service of status," said one of the study authors, Colin Camerer, from the California Institute of Technology in the US.
"A lot of human behaviours are repurposed behaviours seen in our primate relatives. So, here, we're replacing physical aggression with a sort of 'consumer' aggression," Camerer said.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, included nearly 250 participants aged between 18 and 55 years who received a dose of testosterone gel or placebo gel that would absorb through their skin.
They were sent home and asked to return to the lab about four hours later when testosterone levels in their blood would be near peak. Upon returning, they participated in tasks designed to gauge their preferences for different types of goods.
In the first task, the participants were asked to state their preference using a slider on a 10-point scale that had a brand associated with high social status at one end and a brand with lower social status but otherwise equivalent quality at the other end.
Secondly, they were shown and asked to rate series of ads for consumer goods such as a car, a pair of sunglasses, or a coffee machine, with each version of the ad emphasizing either the item's quality, luxuriousness or power.
The results from both the tasks showed that men who received a dose of testosterone had a stronger preference for the luxury brands than did the men who received the placebo.
"In our closest animal kin, males spend a lot of time and energy fighting to establish dominance. We do, too, but our weapons are what we wear, drive, and live in rather than claws, fists, and muscles," Camerer said.