We want to look good but can’t always afford designer-name sunglasses. So what do some of us do? We buy a cheap knockoff or “gray market” item that looks just like the designer brand name, without the designer price. It signals to others — we hope — that we’re as cool and “with it” as anyone else (even when we can’t afford to be).
But we may be getting more than we thought.
We are all aware of the potential consequences of buying fake, counterfeit items on the street — you might get a shabby knockoff or pay too much for it. But outside of questionable quality of such goods, there may be others costs you’re not even aware of. Buying counterfeit goods may actually make us feel less authentic — just like the cheap, knockoff sunglasses.
Worse yet, buying such goods may also increase our likelihood of behaving dishonestly and judging others as unethical.
In a series of four laboratory experiments, researcher Francesca Gino (2010) and colleagues set off to determine what, if any, impact buying counterfeit goods had on a person’s own self-evaluation and evaluation of others. What did they find?
We first found that wearing purportedly counterfeit sunglasses caused people to cheat more on tests when given the opportunity — both when they believed they had an inherent preference for counterfeit products and when they were randomly assigned to wear counterfeits.
Indeed, we found that the impact of counterfeits extends even beyond the individual, causing individuals not only to behave unethically, but also to see the behavior of others as more unethical.
Finally, we investigated the mechanism underlying these effects, determining that wearing counterfeits causes people to feel inauthentic and that these feelings of inauthenticity — the counterfeit self — drive unethical behavior.
Pretty wild. Simply wearing a pair of fake sunglasses influenced participants’ behavior in the experiment in ways they weren’t even aware of. People who wore fake sunglasses cheated more and were more likely to see others’ behaviors as unethical. People who wore the fake product felt more inauthentic, which the researchers theorized drove their changes in behavior.
It’s an interesting conclusion, but it has some limitations. The research was done only on female college students, so it’s not clear if we’d find the same behavior in men, or in older women and men. Indeed, a drive for acceptance and status is more often felt amongst younger individuals than those who are older and no longer feel the need to wear the latest fashion name in order to fit in. Women may also have a different reaction to wearing or using fake products than men.
It’s an intriguing finding to be aware of nonetheless, because it may impact not only the individual who buys and wears the counterfeit good, but those that person interacts with as well.
Gino, F., Norton, M.I., Ariely, D. (2010). The Counterfeit Self: The Deceptive Costs of Faking It, Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610366545.