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Luxury Items May Elicit ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in Some Consumers

If you have the money, what not buy an expensive Swiss watch or Italian sports car?

According to a new study, it turns out that luxury goods are not always “feel good” purchases. Some consumers worry they may not deserve these items, sparking feelings of inauthenticity that fuel what researchers call the “impostor syndrome.”

“Luxury can be a double-edged sword,” said Boston College Carroll School of Management Associate Professor of Marketing Nailya Ordabayeva. “While luxury consumption holds the promise of elevated status, it can backfire and make consumers feel inauthentic, producing what we call the ‘impostor syndrome from luxury consumption.'”

The researchers draw their conclusions based on nine studies, encompassing surveys and observations of patrons of the Metropolitan Opera and shoppers at Louis Vuitton in New York City, vacationers on Martha’s Vineyard, and other luxury consumers.

In contrast to previous studies in this area, “we find that many consumers perceive luxury products as a privilege which is undue and undeserved,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

As a result, consumers feel inauthentic while wearing or using these products, and they actually act less confident than if they were sporting non-luxury items.

For example, “one participant said she felt very shy when she wore a gold necklace with diamonds that she owned because it is not in her character to wear luxurious jewelry,” even though she could afford it, the researchers noted in at the study.

This effect is mitigated among consumers who have an inherently high sense of entitlement, and also among non-entitled-feeling consumers on occasions that make them feel special, such as their birthday.

“Luxury marketers and shoppers need to be aware of this psychological cost of luxury, as impostor feelings resulting from purchases reduce consumer enjoyment and happiness,” said Ordabayeva. “But boosting consumers’ feelings of deservingness through sales tactics and marketing messages can help. Ultimately, in today’s age that prioritizes authenticity and authentic living, creating experiences and narratives that boost people’s personal connection with products and possessions can yield lasting benefits for consumers and marketers alike.”

Ordabayeva’s co-authors on the study were Harvard Business School doctoral student Dafna Goor, Boston University professor Anat Keinan, and Hult International Business School professor Sandrine Crener.

Source: Boston College

Luxury Items May Elicit ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in Some Consumers

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Luxury Items May Elicit ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in Some Consumers. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Jan 2020 (Originally: 2 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Jan 2020
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