June 23, 2011 -- Flashy spending is one way that men signal they want to mate -- but not that they want to mate for life, a study shows.
"This research suggests that conspicuous products, such as Porsches, can serve the same function for some men that large and brilliant feathers serve for peacocks," study researcher Jill Sundie, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas, San Antonio, says in a news release.
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The researchers surveyed nearly a thousand university students. Those students read romantic stories, spent fictional cash on a variety of flashy and not so flashy items, and judged people's attractiveness based in part on the possessions they owned.
The study found that men who are interested in short-term mating -- think one-night stands -- are more likely to spend money on flashy products meant to broadcast their desire. And it apparently works. Such men are seen as more attractive, but only by women who are likewise only looking for a short-term sexual relationship.
"Although showy spending is often perceived as wasteful, frivolous, and even narcissistic, an evolutionary perspective suggests that blatant displays of resources may serve an important function, namely, as a communication strategy designed to gain reproductive rewards," the researchers write in the study.
Sending the Wrong Signal
Of course, not all women are drawn to conspicuous consumption.
"People may feel that owning flashy things makes them more attractive as a relationship partner, but in truth, many men might be sending women the wrong message," co-researcher Daniel Beal, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Rice University in Houston, says in the news release.
Not all men choose to send the same message. According to the study, those who were looking for long-term relationships with a woman were not likely to spend money on showy products. Instead, they spent their money on things like toaster ovens and budget-priced jeans rather than on designer sunglasses and expensive stereos.
But there will always be men willing to fork over real money to impress the ladies.
"Just as peacocks have evolved to flaunt their wasteful tails before potential mates," the researchers write, "men might similarly woo with wasteful expenditures to charm potential mates."