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Feeling inferior, showing off: The effect of nonmaterial social comparisons on conspicuous consumption


  • Zheng, Xiaoying
  • Baskin, Ernest
  • Peng, Siqing


While previous research has shown that consumers strive to keep up their consumption with those who own superior possessions by purchasing conspicuously displayed products (i.e., “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” effect), little attention has been paid to how nonmaterial comparisons might affect their subsequent preferences and spending propensities. This research examines whether and when social comparisons that occur in prior, consumption unrelated domains will influence consumers' conspicuous consumption behaviors. Building upon social comparison theory and the compensatory consumption literature, the authors propose that inferiority experienced in threatening nonmaterial social comparison situations motivates consumers to restore their sense of superiority in the material domain by engaging in conspicuous consumption. However, this depends on whether the comparison target is in a competitive or cooperative relationship with the self and whether consumers have a clear and well-articulated self-concept. Results across four studies confirm these hypotheses. Theoretical contributions and marketing implications are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Zheng, Xiaoying & Baskin, Ernest & Peng, Siqing, 2018. "Feeling inferior, showing off: The effect of nonmaterial social comparisons on conspicuous consumption," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 196-205.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jbrese:v:90:y:2018:i:c:p:196-205
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2018.04.041

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    Cited by:

    1. Srivastava, Abhinav & Mukherjee, Srabanti & Jebarajakirthy, Charles, 2020. "Aspirational consumption at the bottom of pyramid: A review of literature and future research directions," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 246-259.


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