If you saw a person driving a Mercedes Benz, or a Porsche, or a Ferrari, what kind of impression would you have of that person? Would it be positive or negative? Would you look up to them, or look down upon them? And what if you saw that same person the next day, driving an old Volkswagen Beetle, or stepping off of the city bus? What kind of impression would you have of them?
What if you were in a shopping mall, and a well-dressed, well groomed person came up to you and asked to borrow fifty cents to make a phone call? Would you lend it to them? And if you did lend them the money, would you think that you were doing a good deed, and honestly feel good about it? Or would you feel that you had been taken advantage of? What if that same person were dressed rather casually, and was not all that well groomed? Would you be less likely to lend them the money? And if you did, would you be more inclined to feel negative about it than if the person were well dressed?
There have been a good number of psychological studies done to see how people treat others, depending on their appearance. And those that appear to be more “impressive” – that is, are better dressed, better groomed, or in some way seem to have a higher status – tend to be treated better than those that are not as well dressed, or just seem to have a lesser status.
It may seem “shallow”, and even appear to be like a “game” at times, but we tend to judge people and treat people like how we see them, and their outward appearance tends to greatly determine how we see them. So people tend to try to look more impressive to others by dressing up in fancy clothes, or driving expensive cars, or having other forms of status symbols.
I remember I saw a program on the National Geographic Channel, On Board Air Force One , which was about the airplane which carries the President of the United States. It is very large and powerful, and has the words “United States of America” prominently painted on the side of it, and is apparently meant to convey an impression or image of the United States wherever it goes. Even the manner in which it lands and takes off is meant to appear impressive. In some ways, it may be said to be a symbol or icon of the United States – perhaps a kind of Status Symbol.
So apparently, the tendency towards image projection may be found at many sociological levels – from individuals to politicians and corporations, and all the way up to the national level.
This has made me wonder – could there be an evolutionary root to all this? It seems that even animals try to appear impressive to others – whether for mating or for fighting for survival.
Hmmm – Maybe we are ultimately responding to our survival instincts when we get into the good old game of “Dress to Impress”…