Green-eyed monster could make you flashier

ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

Those no longer at the centre of attention may turn to eye-popping purchases: Study

Jealousy really brings out your inner bling, say researchers, who have found that people feeling the stab of the green-eyed monster tend to favour flashy purchases.

The reason, they believe, is that such people feel the need to recapture lost attention.

The research team was led by Assistant Professor Irene Huang from Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School, working with fellow academics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in the United States.

The project began when Prof Huang noticed that there seemed to be a correlation between a person's tendency to be jealous and his preference for brightly coloured clothes. It was a trait she had observed in an acquaintance.

"I wanted to find out if it was just a coincidence, or whether there is a link between jealousy and a desire for attention-grabbing products," Prof Huang said.

As it turns out, there is.

A series of five studies involving 1,021 participants showed that jealousy increased their desire for attention-grabbing products, such as a handbag with large brand logo, a brightly coloured coat or an eye-catching pair of sunglasses.

  • 57%

  • Percentage of participants who were more likely to choose the brightly coloured coat in the jealousy condition than in the envy condition or the control condition.

Jealousy arises when someone feels that they have lost the attention that they previously attracted in a social setting. Other negative emotions, such as envy and powerlessness, were also tested during the 21/2 -year research project.

In the research setting, envy - a concept sometimes used synonymously with jealousy - was given a different definition: It typically emerges when people feel that another person is superior to them or has a coveted possession that they themselves do not own.

In one of the experiments, participants in three conditions were separately told to recall and write about past experiences of feeling jealous, envious or neutral.

They then moved on to a seemingly unrelated task - online shopping.

They were asked to imagine that they were shopping online and to indicate their preference for a brightly coloured coat or dull coloured coat.

It was observed that a majority of participants - 57 per cent - were more likely to choose the brightly coloured coat in the jealousy condition than in the envy condition or the control condition.

Jealousy can also be evoked vicariously, Prof Huang noted, which may have marketing implications.

"If print advertisements and in-store displays portray scenes with jealousy-eliciting situations... they could have a positive effect on the selection of products that are likely to capture attention," she said.

Ms Cho Pei Lin, whose firm Asia PR Werkz creates marketing campaigns, said the research could give a new spin to industry practices.

"Marketing campaigns tend to want to create desire," she said. "But with the research pinning down jealousy as an influential emotion, some firms may want to adjust their advertisements accordingly."

The research findings were published in this month's issue of the Journal Of Consumer Psychology, the official journal of the Society for Consumer Psychology in the US.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Green-eyed monster could make you flashier'. Print Edition | Subscribe