Choice as an Act of Meaning: The Case of Social Class

Nicole M. Stephens*, Hazel Rose Markus, Sarah S M Townsend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

383 Scopus citations


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, 5 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, Studies 1 and 2 showed 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. Examining participants' responses to others' choices, Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated 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, Study 5 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814-830
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • choice
  • culture
  • educational attainment
  • models of agency
  • social class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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