Next time you’re browsing for some flashy new fashion item, take a moment to ask yourself what you’re really looking for: is it a fresh look, or is it the attention of someone whose gaze has traveled elsewhere?
New research suggests that in many cases, it may be the latter.
Feelings of jealousy rev up our desire to purchase eye-catching products – like a brightly colored jacket or a shirt with a big logo – according to new research conducted by Xun (Irene) Huang, PhD.
"We believe that this effect is not just restricted to jealousy in romantic relationships," says Huang, a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. "Children can be jealous of a sibling's relationship with their parents, or workers might be jealous of a colleague's close relationship with a supervisor."
In a series of five experiments whose results were published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Huang and her team also found that the desire for eye-catching products dissolved when there was little chance the product would be noticed in public.
In one experiment, participants who were experiencing jealousy were more likely to purchase a bold-looking lamp for their office, but if they were browsing for a lamp for their bedroom, interest in an eye-catching lamp versus a dull grey one was equal.
In another experiment, the researchers discovered that the desire to regain someone’s attention with eye-grabbing products even outweighed the fear of humiliation. Participants in this experiment were tasked with imagining that they’d been invited to a party; while one group was invited to a costume party organized by friends, the other group was invited to a formal welcoming party for new staff at their office.
Participants were then asked to decide whether they’d prefer to sport an ordinary pair of sunglasses to a party or a bold, eccentric pair. The participants who were experiencing jealousy opted to wear the eye-catching sunglasses to both parties, even though they ran the risk of being made fun of at the formal work party.
Huang said this study could have implications for marketing, as print advertisements and in-store displays could portray scenarios in which jealousy plays a role – in turn motivating consumers to purchase these products. Another avenue for such advertisements, said Huang, could be television commercials that run during shows where jealousy is a recurring theme.