Scientists in the US carried out a series of studies on almost 1,000 men and women to investigate attitudes to “flashy” spending.
They found that conspicuous spending in men is mainly driven by a desire for short-term sexual relationships.
Women could see through the strategy, and did not regard men in expensive sports cars as potential marriage material.
“This research suggests that conspicuous products, such as Porsches, can serve the same function for some men that large and brilliant feathers serve for peacocks,” said Dr Jill Sundie, from the University of Texas-San Antonio, whose findings are published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study found that a man could make himself more desirable to women by choosing to buy a “flashy” luxury product, such as a Porsche, rather than a more mundane one, such as a Honda civic.
But there was a catch. Although the Porsche driver was attractive as a date, he was not preferred as a marriage partner. Women understood the message that “flashy” spending indicated an interest in uncommitted sex.
Co-author and psychologist Dr Daniel Beal, from Rice University in Houston, Texas, said: “When women considered him for a long-term relationship, owning the sports car held no advantage relative to owning an economy car.
“People may feel that owning flashy things makes them more attractive as a relationship partner, but in truth, many men might be sending women the wrong message.”
Appearing “flash” is not something peculiar to Western culture but has existed throughout history around the world, the researchers pointed out.
They added that, unlike men, women do not conspicuously spend to attract the opposite sex.
“Obviously, women also spend plenty of money on expensive things,” said Dr Sundie. “But the anticipation of romance doesn’t trigger flashy spending as it does with some men.”