The red sneaker effect

When Mark Zuckerberg wore his hoodie to meetings with investors before Facebook’s IPO, some on Wall Street scoffed at his apparent immaturity and carelessness. However, that’s not the response most people have when observing another person engaged in non-conforming behaviour, according to new research from Harvard Business School associate professor Francesa Gino.

In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, Professor Gino finds that people who stand out from the crowd are seen as having higher status than others.

Her experiments looked at everything from how executives responded to business school instructors who wore red sneakers to what luxury clothing boutique clerks thought of shoppers who came into their stores wearing gym clothes. And the study found repeatedly that such atypical clothing or behavior actually made others think more of the person, not less.

The social cost, or negative effect, of non-conforming behaviour in experiment after experiment appears to be missing. On the contrary, people see such individuals as “having the guts to do what they’re doing. They have points to spare. They’re such a high-status person that they don’t need to conform to the rules.”

That doesn’t mean you should ditch your fur coats and leather shoes; this perception only applies in certain contexts:

Of course, casual dress only translated into greater respect when the university where the professor worked was described in the experiment as being prestigious. When it was not, the inverse was true: The more formally dressed professors were seen as having marginally more status. In other words, it’s only when a more formal code of conduct is expected that violating it is seen as an act of autonomy.

When there are no rules, there is no merit in rule-breaking.

While Gino found that nonconformists tend to be seen as more competent in many, if not most, situations where they break the established norms, it doesn’t work as well if there’s a high level of familiarity, she says. “There needs to be some uncertainty about the real, objective status of that person” in order for the red sneaker effect, as she calls it, to work.


via Washington Post


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