The influence of contextual cues on the perceived status of consumption-reducing behavior

Jeremy S. Brooks (Lead Author), Charles Wilson

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36 Citations (Scopus)
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The question of whether and when behaviors that reduce overall consumption are associated with low status has not been adequately explored. Previous research suggests that some low cost environmentally-friendly behaviors are stigmatized, but has not accounted for the impact of contextual information on perceived status. Here, we use costly signaling theory to describe why consumption-reducing behaviors may be associated with low status and when and how this perception might change. We report two empirical studies in the U.S. that use a large sample of graduate students (N = 447) to examine the effects of contextual information on how consumption-reducing behaviors are perceived. We then explore the perceived appropriateness of consumption-reducing behavior for signaling status relative to alternative non-environmental behaviors. Using linear mixed-effects models, we find that information indicating that consumption-reducing behavior is a choice results in higher perceived status. However, we find that consumption-reducing behaviors are perceived to be less appropriate for conveying status than consumption-intensive behaviors. The environmental orientation of the respondent has little effect on perceptions of status in both studies. These results provide insights into the dynamic, evolutionary process by which sustainable consumption might become more socially acceptable and the social factors that may inhibit this process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-117
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Economics
Early online date3 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015


  • Sustainable consumption
  • Materialism
  • Status
  • Environmental behavior
  • Conspicuous consumption
  • Costly signaling

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