Lead author Philip Mazzocco of Ohio State University's Mansfield campus said the findings cast doubt on the notion urban minorities have developed a corrosive "bling culture" unique to them.
"Minorities don't buy high-status products because of some 'bling culture.' It is a basic psychological tendency that we all share when we're feeling inferior in some part of our life," Mazzocco said in a statement. "Anyone who is feeling low in status is going to try to compensate. And in our capitalistic, consumption-oriented society, one way to compensate is to buy high-status products."
Mazzocco and colleagues Derek Rucker, Adam Galinsky and Eric Anderson of Northwestern University said in the first experiment, 146 American adults -- half white and half black -- were told they would be participating in a study of consumer preferences. They were asked to rate 10 products on a nine-point scale from extremely negative to extremely positive.
The findings, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, found overall, blacks had more positive evaluations of the high-status products than did whites. But more importantly, blacks who considered their race to be an important part of their identity rated high-status goods higher than did blacks who had lower racial identification.
In another experiment, 69 white adults wrote a story in which they imagined themselves as a white or black character. They also rated their desire to own or purchase specific high- and low-status products.
The findings suggest people don't like being in a low-status situation, and they compensate by trying to acquire high-status products, Mazzocco said.