LAWRENCE, Kan. — Having a watch or a car with a wide body can help provide people with a newfound sense of bravado and dominance, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Kansas conducted five related experiments, hoping to find whether the width-to-height ratio of a good influenced one’s level of self-esteem in a stressful situation.
In the first segment, participants were shown photos of human faces of varying dimensions, from low width-to-height ratio (i.e., narrow) to high width-to-height ratio (i.e., wide). Previous research has shown that many people feel intimidated by human faces that are especially wide, which prompted the method.
Subsequently, participants were asked to examine photos of consumer products with face-like aesthetics of different dimensions, such as watch faces and automobiles.
Lastly, participants were asked to think about a stressful situation (e.g., encountering an old bully or having to negotiate on a business transaction), while viewing the product designs.
The researchers found that participants were more likely to choose a product with a wide design when they felt intimidated or threatened, mainly because they’d be perceived as being more dominant.
“When it comes to a dominant-looking product face, they really like it,” lead researcher Ahreum Maeng says of the general preference for a wide-faced good in a press release. “It’s probably because people view the product as part of themselves and they would think, ‘It’s my possession. I have control over it when I need it, and I can demonstrate my dominance through the product.’”
It was also found that in situations that didn’t warrant a display of dominance, such as spending time with family, the need for a wide-faced good diminished.
Maeng emphasizes that a wide-faced good is not necessarily synonymous with a luxury good, which could be important for marketers.
Still, wide-faced goods can often fetch more on the open market, she argues.
The study’s findings were published last week in the Journal of Consumer Research.