A psychological study has shown that wearing counterfeit goods will make you a worse person. To put it in a nutshell, you start off by wearing counterfeit goods and end up in a state of general moral decay.
This study was conducted years ago, but it still pops back up in the media every now and again, not least because of its anecdotal value. Dan Ariely, an American professor of behavioural economics, wrote about this in his book The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty. What makes us honest or dishonest is often not determined by our inner convictions, but by outside influences.
Ariely was aware of how important status is to people and had also experienced how wearing chic designer clothing can make you feel better about yourself. He wondered if the reverse was also true. And it was.
In a study, he asked a group of test subjects, who thought that they were testing something entirely different, to first wear a pair of Chloë sunglasses for a while. One third of the participants thought that they were wearing genuine, extremely expensive Chloë sunglasses, one third were told that they would be wearing counterfeit sunglasses and a third were not told anything at all about the glasses. Then the real test commenced.
All of the participants had to do a series of calculations and report back on how many mistakes they had made. The researchers were not allowed to see their calculations and the participants thought that they could lie about the number of mistakes they had made without anyone noticing. And this is exactly what they did.
It turned out that when measured against the control group, the participants who thought that they were wearing authentic Chloë were, on average, more honest about their mistakes. But the trial subjects wearing the fake glasses lied far more often than the average: a whopping 74 per cent more! A follow-up study also showed that people wearing counterfeit were more suspicious of others, and more likely to think that other people were liars and cheats.
“…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”, was Ariely’s somewhat dramatic conclusion.
And the moral of this tale? It is often thought that trademark law only serves the manufacturer’s interests. But this study shows that trademark law also serves the greater good of society. And of ourselves. It makes us better people.