Everybody knows it’s always best to make a good impression. Arrive on time. Make eye contact and smile. Wear your snazziest suit, your cashmere coat, your nicest shoes, and the Cartier watch your grandparents gave you. Unless, that is, you’re trying to make a friend.

Status symbols, such as expensive clothes and Cartier watches, signal our social value — something that is generally to our advantage, says Stephen Garcia, associate professor of organizational studies and psychology. “In our culture, having status generally has a lot of benefits,” he says. “You might have an easier time getting a job if you went to a really top school, for example. Certain brand names and luxury items can communicate your social value, which can be a good thing because people tend to defer to others who have higher status.”

As a researcher, Garcia investigates social comparison. “Social comparison is the analysis of the self in relation to others,” he explains. “It’s based on the idea that we need to self-evaluate, and so we use other people as benchmarks to try to objectively evaluate ourselves.” But the goal is not simply to compare ourselves to others, he says. It’s also to outperform them, and signaling our social value can help.

Read the full article at LSA Magazine.