Compared to women, men have a greater tendency to make conspicuous wealth displays and typically make greater contributions in non-somatic provisioning. Male resource displays often predict future paternal resource investments; however, some conspicuous displays may function as mating effort at the cost of investment potential. Men who tend to make such displays may have less interest in long-term relationship investment and commitment and greater interest in short-term sexual relationships. Undergraduates read descriptions of two men purchasing automobiles with the same budget. One man purchased a new car for the sake of reliability (frugal investment); the other purchased a used car and allocated the remaining funds to conspicuous display features (new paint, larger wheels, louder sound system). Participants rated each character on life history characteristics, relationship interests, and relationship attractiveness. Participants rated the man who invested in flashy display higher on mating effort, lower on parental investment, higher on interest in brief sexual affairs, lower on interest in long-term committed romantic relationships, higher in attractiveness to women for brief sexual affairs, and lower in attractiveness to women for long-term committed romantic relationships, compared to the man with a frugal investment strategy. Participants demonstrated an intuitive understanding that some male conspicuous displays can indicate faster life history strategies. Human male luxury displays associated with high mating effort life histories may mimic the properties of male secondary sexual characteristics across species, and these displays may be more prevalent in environments fostering faster life histories.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Andersson, M. (1994). Sexual selection. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Beckerman, S., Lizarralde, R., Ballew, C., Schroeder, S., Fingelton, C., Garrison, A., & Smith, H. (1998). The Barí partible paternity project: preliminary results. Current Anthropology, 39(1), 164–167.
Bozon, M., & Héran, F. (2006). La formation du couple. Paris: La Découverte.
Bribiescas, R. G. (2001). Reproductive ecology and life history of the human male. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 44(S33), 148–176.
Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex difference in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12(1), 1–49.
Chagnon, N. A. (1992). Yanomamo (4th ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace.
Chisholm, J. S. (1999). Death, hope and sex: steps to an evolutionary ecology of mind and morality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chu, S., Farr, D., Muñoz, L. C., & Lycett, J. E. (2011). Interpersonal trust and market value moderates the bias in women’s preferences away from attractive high-status men. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 143–147.
Darwin, C. (1871a). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray.
Darwin, C. (1871b). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Dixson, A. F. (2012). Primate sexuality: comparative studies of the prosimians, monkeys, apes, and human beings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dunn, M. J., & Hill, A. (2014). Manipulated luxury-apartment ownership enhances opposite-sex attraction in females but not males. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 12, 1–17.
Dunn, M. J., & Searle, R. (2010). Effect of manipulated prestige-car ownership on both sex attractiveness ratings. British Journal of Psychology, 101(1), 69–80.
Ellison, P. T. (2001). On fertile ground: a natural history of human reproduction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Folstad, I., & Karter, A. J. (1992). Parasites, bright males, and the immunocompetence handicap. American Naturalist, 139(3), 603–622.
Geary, D. C. (2005). Evolution of paternal investment. In D. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 483–505). Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons.
Godoy, R., Reyes-García, V., Huanca, T., Leonard, W. R., McDade, T., Tanner, S., Vadez, V., & Seyfried, C. (2007). Signaling by consumption in a native Amazonian society. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(2), 124–134.
Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Sundie, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Miller, G. F., & Kenrick, D. T. (2007). Blatant benevolence and conspicuous consumption: when romantic motives elicit strategic costly signals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(1), 85–102.
Grueter, C. C., Isler, K., & Dixson, B. J. (2015). Are badges of status adaptive in large complex primate groups? Evolution and Human Behavior, 36, 398–406.
Guéguen, N., & Lamy, L. (2012). Men’s social status and attractiveness: women’s receptivity to men’s date requests. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 71(3), 157–160.
Hamilton, W. D., & Zuk, M. (1982). Heritable true fitness and bright birds: a role for parasites? Science, 218(4570), 384–387.
Hennighausen, C., Hudders, L., Lange, B., & Fink, H. (2016). What if the rival drives a Porsche? Luxury car spending as a costly signal in male intrasexual competition. Evolutionary Psychology, 14(4), 1–13.
Hill, K., & Hurtado, M. (1996). Ache life history: the ecology and demography of a foraging people. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Hopcroft, R. L. (2006). Sex, status, and reproductive success in the contemporary United States. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(2), 104–120.
Kappeler, P. M., & van Schaik, C. P. (2004). Sexual selection in primates: new and comparative perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kruger, D. J. (2006). Male facial masculinity influences attributions of personality and reproductive strategy. Personal Relationships, 13, 451–463.
Kruger, D. J. (2008). Male financial consumption is associated with higher mating intentions and mating success. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(4), 603–612.
Kruger, D. J. (2017). Brief self-report scales assessing life history dimensions of mating and parenting effort. Evolutionary Psychology, 15(1), 1–9.
Kruger, D. J., Fisher, M., & Jobling, I. (2003). Proper and dark heroes as dads and cads: alternative mating strategies in British romantic literature. Human Nature, 14(3), 305–317.
Larsen, C. S. (2003). Equality for the sexes in human evolution? Early hominid sexual dimorphism and implications for mating systems and social behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(16), 9103–9104.
Leutenegger, W., & Kelley, J. T. (1977). Relationship of sexual dimorphism in canine size and body size to social, behavioral, and ecological correlates in anthropoid primates. Primates, 18(1), 117–136.
Low, B. S. (1979). Sexual selection and human ornamentation. In N. Chagnon & W. Irons (Eds.), Evolutionary theory and human social organization (pp. 462–486). North Scituate: Duxbury Press.
Maynard-Smith, J. (1982). Evolution and the theory of games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, G. F., & Todd, P. M. (1998). Mate choice turns cognitive. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2(5), 190–198.
Muehlenbein, M. P., & Bribiescas, R. G. (2005). Testosterone-mediated immune functions and male life histories. American Journal of Human Biology, 17(5), 527–558.
Nelissen, R. M., & Meijers, M. H. (2011). Social benefits of luxury brands as costly signals of wealth and status. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(5), 343–355.
Roff, D. A. (1992). The evolution of life histories: theory and analysis. New York: University of Chicago Press.
Roney, J. R. (2003). Effects of visual exposure to the opposite sex: cognitive aspects of mate attraction in human males. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(3), 393–404.
Setchell, J. M., & Kappeler, P. M. (2003). Selection in relation to sex in primates. Advances in the Study of Behaviour, 33, 87–174.
Shuler, G. A., & McCord, D. M. (2010). Determinants of male attractiveness: “hotness” ratings as a function of perceived resources. American Journal of Psychological Research, 6(1), 10–23.
Stearns, S. C. (1992). The evolution of life histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sundie, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., Griskevicius, V., Tybur, J. M., Vohs, K. D., & Beal, D. J. (2011). Peacocks, Porsches, and Thorstein Veblen: conspicuous consumption as a sexual signaling system. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 664–680.
Townsend, J. M., & Levy, G. D. (1990). Effects of potential partners’ costume and physical attractiveness on sexuality and partner selection. The Journal of Psychology, 124(4), 371–389.
Veblen, T. (1899/1953). The theory of the leisure class. New York: Mentor.
von Rueden, C. R., & Jaeggi, A. V. (2016). Men’s status and reproductive success in 33 nonindustrial societies: effects of subsistence, marriage system, and reproductive strategy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(39), 10824–10829.
Walker, L., Butland, D., & Connell, R. (2000). Boys on the road: Masculinities, car culture, and road safety education. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 8(2), 153–169.
Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (2004). Do pretty women inspire men to discount the future? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 271(Suppl 4), S177–S179.
Wood, B. M., & Marlowe, F. W. (2013). Household and kin provisioning by Hadza men. Human Nature, 24, 280–317.
Zahavi, A. (1975). Mate selection—a selection for a handicap. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 53, 205–214.
Zhao, T., Jin, X., Xu, W., Zuo, X., & Cui, H. (2017). Mating goals moderate power’s effect on conspicuous consumption among women. Evolutionary Psychology, 15(3), 147470491772391.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.
We thank Anne K. Gordon for feedback on this manuscript.
Electronic Supplementary Material
About this article
Cite this article
Kruger, D.J., Kruger, J.S. What Do Economically Costly Signals Signal?: a Life History Framework for Interpreting Conspicuous Consumption. Evolutionary Psychological Science 4, 420–427 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-018-0151-y
- Conspicuous consumption
- Costly signaling
- Life history
- Mating effort
- Parental investment