Imagine browsing your social media feed and discovering two purchases made by friends: a tropical vacation and a top-of-the-line TV. Which purchase would you be more likely to covet? Researchers at the U found that our envy depends on our focus as observers, as noted in their study published in the Journal of Business Research.
“When we focus on the people and their happiness, we tend to envy experiential purchases more,” says Joowon Park, lead author and assistant professor of marketing at the U’s David Eccles School of Business. Conversely, when we concentrate on the products and their superiority, we tend to envy material purchases more.
Why do we envy experiential purchases when we focus on the people? Experiences like vacations and concerts shape our identity and can bring more happiness than material possessions, making them enviable.
And what about when we focus on the products? Material possessions like electronics and clothes are objectively comparable, unlike experiences, which are subjective. Comparability can also lead to envy.
The researchers argue that as social beings, we naturally focus more on people than products.
“People will naturally compare themselves to others unless prompted to think specifically about the purchase,” says Tamara Masters BSN’83 MBA’88 PhD’12, a co-author and professor at the David Eccles School of Business.