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Choice as an act of meaning: The case of social class, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Social class is one important source of models of agency normative guidelines for how to be a good person. Using choice as a prototypically agentic action, five studies test the hypotheses that models of agency prevalent in working class (WK) contexts reflect a normative preference for similarity to others, whereas models prevalent in middle class (MD) contexts reflect a preference for difference from others. Focusing on participants' choices, we found that participants from WK relative to MD contexts more often chose pens that appeared similar to, rather than different from, other pens in the choice set, and more often chose the same images as another participant. Focusing on participants' responses to others' choices, we found that participants from WK relative to MD contexts liked their chosen pens more when a confederate chose similarly, and responded more positively when a friend chose the same car in a hypothetical scenario. Finally, we found that car advertisements targeting WK rather than MD consumers more often emphasized connection to, rather than differentiation from, others, suggesting that models of agency are reflected in pervasive cultural products.




Nicole Stephens, Hazel Rose Markus, Sarah Townsend

Date Published



Stephens, Nicole, Hazel Rose Markus, and Sarah Townsend. 2007. Choice as an act of meaning: The case of social class. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 93(5): 814-830.


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