Conspicuous Consumption in Committed Relationships: A Signal of Relationship Dissatisfaction by Heterosexual Men


Through conspicuous consumption, humans consume luxury goods or services to show off wealth and status. Conspicuous consumption has been considered as an honest signal that could convey the quality of the signaler to potential receivers, which is positively associated with sexual selection and men’s mate attraction goals. Previous research on the function of men’s conspicuous consumption within evolutionary psychology is mainly built upon the assumption that heterosexual men who buy luxuries are single. Little research to date has considered how being in a committed romantic relationship influences men's conspicuous consumption and how it will be interpreted by their female partner. The current dissertation is the first study to date to investigate the relationship between conspicuous consumption and men’s dissatisfaction with a committed romantic relationship. In a Pilot Study and three online experimental studies, the present dissertation examined (1) the perceived motivation of married men’s conspicuous displays from a third-person perspective, including observers of both genders (Chapter II Pilot Study, Chapter III Study 1); (2) if being dissatisfied with a current relationship would increase committed men’s conspicuous purchases for themselves (Chapter IV Study 2); (3) women’s interpretation of their male partners’ increased conspicuous consumption (Chapter V Study 3). Results demonstrated that (1) from a third-person’s perspective, married men with increased (vs. other patterns of) conspicuous consumption for themselves were viewed as having higher mating intentions; (2) from married men’s perspective, with priming of the negative memory, the more frequently they thought of leaving and/or the lower baseline trait satisfaction they had with their current relationship, married men purchased more conspicuous items for themselves; the higher baseline trait satisfaction they had with their current relationship, married men purchased more conspicuous items for their partner; (3) from committed women’s perspective, increased conspicuousness of the consumption increased their suspicion of their partner’s potential infidelity in the past, present, and future, as well as their assessments of their partner’s potential dissatisfaction with the current relationship. The current dissertation provided a detailed framework for illustrating the motivation for and consequences of men’s conspicuous consumption in the context of a committed romantic relationship.PHDPsychologyUniversity of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies

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