Fake it til you make it — by faking it some more?

An interesting study found by way of The Situationist raises some troubling questions about an acquisitive culture in which self-branding has become the hallmark of personal status.

We all know about people slaving away to save up the bucks to buy some conspicuous  token of consumerism, one of those things ya just gotta have to buy your way into a group or raise your status within your existing group.

The pressure is hardest on kids, as any parent quickly learns. And when you can afford the real thing, then you settle for a counterfeit because at least it looks like you’re with it and not stuck on the outside.

But what happens when you knowingly buy a counterfeit, when you cheat your way into status? Could it be that your self-perception as a canny fraud might leak into other aspects of your life?

Maybe so, according to this report by marketing professional Roger Dooley at Neuromarketing:

You can find fake designer and luxury products just about anywhere these days, and most people consider owning one a harmless transgression. After all, if you were never going to pay $12,000 for a real Rolex, who is really hurt if you wear a fake that cost you $30? Rolex didn’t really lose a sale, right? It turns out that the victim of the “crime” may be none other than YOU!

A fascinating research project has demonstrated that the act of wearing a fake designer item actually causes an individual to behave in a more unethical and cynical manner. The study, by Francesca Gino, Michael I. Norton, and Dan Ariely, started by giving a group of young female subjects expensive Chloé sunglasses to wear. These glasses were actually all authentic products, but half of the subjects were told that they were wearing a fake.

In subsequent testing the subjects wearing the “fake” sunglasses were more than TWICE as likely to cheat on a math test (71% vs 26%) when they thought their cheating would not be detected. Another test showed that the subjects wearing “fake” sunglasses judged other people as more likely to behave in a dishonest manner.

One celebrity caught wearing fake luxury was none other than O. J. Simpson. His brand trickery was exposed when a Los Angeles judge ordered O.J. to turn over his Rolex watch as part of the judgment against him won by the Goldman family. The timepiece in question turned out to be a cheap knockoff.

While some might say O.J. wearing a fake watch is just one more example of his often duplicitous behavior, this research suggests that the act of wearing that watch had the potential to encourage breaking the rules.

So, while it’s unlikely that carrying a phony Louis Vuitton purse or wearing a fake Breitling watch will send you into a homicidal rage, O.J.’s saga adds a cautionary (albeit anecdotal) underline to the academic findings.

Note that this study doesn’t say anything about those individuals (like O.J.) who choose to purchase fakes. Rather, the experiments showed the behavioral effects on average individuals of wearing what they thought was a counterfeit. You can draw your own conclusions about those who actually seek out and wear fake products.

Read the rest here, and for those who prefer to go straight to the source, the whole paper is here [pdf warning].


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