When it comes to making us look and feel our best, some consumers rely on technology or medical breakthroughs for support. Healthy people look to plastic surgery, genetic testing or performance-enhancing drugs such as Viagra or steroids for a boost.
This trend toward the use of enhancement products as a lifestyle rather than as a life-saver carries a double standard in how we judge ourselves versus others who use the same products.
“What it means to get a boost from a product is in the eye of the beholder,” says Mary Steffel, assistant professor of marketing at UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business.
“People see the effect of a product differently depending on whether they themselves or someone else is using it: they see it as unlocking their own true abilities, but they see it as embellishing others’ abilities beyond what they truly are.”
Steffel’s research “Double Standards in the Use of Enhancing Products by Self and Others” will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. The research of Steffel and lead author Elanor Williams, a postdoctoral scholar of marketing at the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, is featured in a Time magazine article.
The two researchers found that when people consider themselves or another person’s use of a variety of product enhancements, they are more likely to judge others more harshly.
Through six experiments, researchers asked people to consider him or herself or another person using a variety of products: energy-boosting supplements, attention-enhancing drugs and anxiety-reducing interventions. In all cases, people were more likely to interpret the products as adding abilities that did not already exist when others used them than when they did.
“This has important consequences for how people believe enhancing products ought to be used and regulated,” Steffel says.
Steffel says the research revealed that people think they are more deserving of good outcomes, feel less obligated to disclose product usage, and consider policies prohibiting the use of enhancement products to be fair for others but not themselves.
The research suggests, Steffel says, that to make ability-boosting products more acceptable, marketers should make these types of products seem less out of the ordinary, describe these products as revealing true abilities instead of embellished ones, and encourage consumers to consider themselves rather than others using them.