If you're someone who doesn't mind carrying a fake Gucci bag, wearing a pair of imitation Cartier earrings or donning knockoff designer sunglasses, think again. Dan Ariely, the author of a new book about dishonesty, says women who wear fake brands are more likely to lie and cheat than other women.
Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University in the US and a bestselling author, provides evidence to support his claims in his book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Including Ourselves.
One of Ariely's most intriguing discoveries came when he was given a Prada overnight bag and noticed how he felt different carrying it.
"I stood a little straighter and walked with a bit more swagger," he said. "I wondered what would happen if I wore Ferrari underwear. Would I feel more invigorated? More confident? More agile? Faster?"
Interested by this, Ariely and his colleagues carried out research to find out how wearing brands, both luxury and fake, affect how we behave.
In one test, Ariely gave designer Chloe sunglasses to female MBA students. He told one group they were wearing the authentic glasses and another group that they were wearing fakes. Would the women wearing what they thought were fake glasses behave differently from those wearing the real thing?
He explained: "If our participants felt that wearing fakes would broadcast (even to themselves) a less honourable self-image, we wondered whether they might start thinking of themselves as somewhat less honest. And with this tainted self-concept in mind, would they be more likely to continue down the road of dishonesty?"
To investigate this further, the women were asked to complete a maths test where they were able to report how many problems they had successfully solved. The results were surprising - 74 per cent of women who thought they were wearing fake accessories reported doing better at the test than they really had while only 30 per cent of the women wearing authentic items cheated. According to Ariely, this demonstrated that while everyone had been tempted to cheat, those who thought they were wearing fake designer glasses cheated more often.
Ariely then conducted a second test in which he sought to uncover the existence of what he calls the "what-the-hell effect". He likens this to dieters tempted to break their diet with something small such as eating one chip and then saying "what the hell" and abandoning the diet.
One group of women were given the authentic designer glasses and the other received fakes. They were again asked to complete a test but this time there was a financial incentive. The results revealed that when faced with the chance of maximising their profit, higher levels of cheating were observed by the group who thought they were wearing the fake sunglasses. Notably once the cheating began, this group showed a greater willingness to keep cheating on their answers.
Ariely noted the wearers of the fake sunglasses "showed a much greater tendency to abandon their moral constraints and cheat at full throttle".
"Once we knowingly put on a counterfeit product, moral constraints loosen to some degree, making it easier for us to take further steps down the path of dishonesty," he concluded.
The moral of the story, he wrote, is "if you, your friend, or someone you are dating wears counterfeit products, be careful! Another act of dishonesty may be closer than you expect."
Ariely believes wearing counterfeit fashion has a deeper impact on a person's morality than other counterfeit goods. "I do think clothes are different because clothes are a constant reminder of who we are" he told Life & Style. Unlike an illegal download where once you have listened or watched it is done with, he says, "imagine you are buying fake sunglasses and you carry them everywhere you go. It is a reminder that these are illegal."
Fashion is also "something that we pay attention to, to signal to other people who we are, something we are proud of. It's something you might get comments on. You might be afraid of getting comments on it in case it is a counterfeit and because of that it captures much more of our attention, energy and awareness."
Will Ariely's results deter women from wearing fake merchandise? "Perhaps a little," he says, "but I don't think people think about the consequences of their actions when they go and buy fake merchandise. I suspect that if women understood the consequences to a higher degree they might not do it as frequently."
As well as damaging fashion manufacturers, there are other reasons to stay away from fakes - counterfeit goods are linked to organised crime. In July, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put counterfeiting under the spotlight by launching an awareness campaign. Counterfeiting is estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to generate about $US250 billion ($238 billion) a year in criminal proceeds.
UNODC warns: "Buying a counterfeit handbag or pair of jeans might not be regarded as an illegal transaction - simply a cheaper way to wear the latest fashion goods. However, often little thought is given to how the money may ultimately end up in the hands of organised crime groups.
"Criminal organisations are often involved beyond just producing and moving counterfeit goods, with many also trafficking drugs, firearms and people" it says.
"If your favourite designer brand is clearly not made by your favourite designer, stay away. Remember - while these purchases may save you money in the short term, the longer-term losses are far more costly."
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