This research examines how people react to nonconforming behaviors, such as entering a luxury boutique wearing gym clothes rather than an elegant outfit or wearing red sneakers in a professional setting. Nonconforming behaviors, as costly and visible signals, can act as a particular form of conspicuous consumption and lead to positive inferences of status and competence in the eyes of others. A series of studies demonstrates that people confer higher status and competence to nonconforming rather than conforming individuals. These positive inferences derived from signals of nonconformity are mediated by perceived autonomy and moderated by individual differences in need for uniqueness in the observers. An investigation of boundary conditions demonstrates that the positive inferences disappear when the observer is unfamiliar with the environment, when the nonconforming behavior is depicted as unintentional, and in the absence of expected norms and shared standards of formal conduct.
Bellezza, Silvia, F. Gino, and Anat Keinan. "The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity." Journal of Consumer Research 41, no. 1 (June 2014): 35-54.
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