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Our Desire for Luxury Goods Starts at Age 6

New research suggests our desire for luxury goods could have already begun by the age of six.

Researchers conducted a series of tests on chimpanzees and children aged four and six in order to understand the origins of our preference for scarce products.

Ample research in psychology and marketing has demonstrated that adults display a scarcity preference which can make it profitable to limit the availability of products for luxury companies.

Alicia Melis and Daniel Read, of Warwick Business School, aimed to investigate the age at which the bias for scarce products develops, and the potential evolutionary roots of this preference.

The researchers studied human’s closest living primate relative, the chimpanzee. The study found chimpanzees did not show any preference for scarce goods and neither did four-year old children, but six year-old children did.

Dr Melis, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science, said: “One possibility could be that by the age of six children have learned to value unique products as something special.

“They may have learned that scarcity in itself is a valued feature that symbolises status or increased power to gain more resources, just as luxury goods do.

“Another possibility is that children are just thinking strategically, anticipating that if they want the scarce good and the abundant one in our experiment, they should take the scarce one first, knowing that they can come back later for the one in plentiful supply.

“We know from previous studies that at around five children become capable of thinking one or two steps ahead.”

The test saw the children and chimps given the choice of a wrapped good from a pile of identical boxes or from a ‘pile’ containing just a single similarly wrapped box.

Choosing the scarce good was most common in the competition context, which was created by letting other chimpanzees or children in the room choose right after the participant.

Professor Read, Professor of Behavioural Science, added: “Both genders showed the scarcity bias when in competition, but only the boys revealed it when there was no competition, ie nobody waiting for their turn to choose.

“So, although we need further studies with a larger sample of children, if this gender difference holds, it could mean that boys at the age of six have a stronger motivation to have something others don’t have.

“In the present study we used stickers as rewards for the children, something that children enjoy and like to collect, but we would also need more research using utilitarian goods to see if this effect still holds.

“If the effect holds then it could mean that children are being strategic, anticipating competition, and trying to maximize variety. However, if the effect doesn’t hold and is only observable with hedonic goods, we could be seeing a desire for scarce and rare goods in six year-olds.”

(Source: Warwick Business School)

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