Study: Your Shopping Habits Affect Your Compassion

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New research suggests that shopping at luxury stores undermines your willingness to help others in need.

Where you shop influences your treatment of others, for better or for worse.

That was the finding of a new study entitled “Wrong Place to Get Help,” recently published in the journal Social Influence.

The study, which was based on a series of three experiments in Paris, revealed that people who shop at — or even stand in the vicinity of — high-end luxury stores are less likely to help someone in need.

The first experiment took place on Paris’ Triangle d’Or, where many high-end fashion stores are located. Researchers analyzed people’s response to a woman wearing a leg brace as she dropped a bottle of water and a bag of candy and struggled to pick them up. A mere 35 percent of people shopping at the fancy stores stopped to help the woman. When researchers moved the experiment to a street with no stores, 77 percent of people offered to help.

In the second, people shopping on a street with luxury stores were asked by a woman pushing a friend in a wheelchair if they could watch the disabled friend while she ran back into a store to get her cellphone. Just 23 percent of the shoppers agreed to help and stay with the friend in a wheelchair. On a residential street, 82 percent of people were willing to help the woman out.

In the third experiment, when a woman asked to borrow strangers’ cellphones to call her mom, 41 percent complied on a street with expensive stores, 63 percent did in an area of high- and low-end stores, and 74 percent did on streets without stores.

The findings suggest that simply being around expensive luxury-brand stores and their “environmental cues of materialism” boosts feelings of self-worth and competitiveness, making people less likely to help others.

“There are lots of subconscious cues in a retail environment which can alter your behavior,” Ani Collum, partner and retail consultant at Retails Concepts in Boston, tells Yahoo Style. “For example, you may notice that in many supermarkets, bananas are strategically placed in or around the cereal aisle, to suggest they’re bought in pairs. Or, in furniture stores, signs explain the functionality of the item, creating an actionable need for it.”

Collum says the same is true for high-end shopping, where feelings of exclusivity and entitlement follow shoppers into and out of the store.

“The key is to give yourself a mental check the next time you’re shopping so you’re not impacted by these retail cues that can impact your actions, for better or worse,” she says.

Of course, this study was conducted in Paris, so it’s unclear if the findings would be the same if the experiments were conducted on say, Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue.

Are you surprised by the study’s findings? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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