The Luxury Effect

An interview with Steven Schlozman, staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Does fitness work much the same way as beauty and cars—that is, do people place higher value on the more expensive? 

I think so. We seem to value currency as at least one of our primary measurements of value itself, so people often decide that if they pay more, they get more. It can also have to do with the facilities. People may value the cleanliness of the showers over the workout itself.

Some folks decide to pay more in order to motivate themselves. Some gyms, meanwhile, might charge more to get more business.

Are you more likely to keep going if you’re paying more?

Yes, and there are studies to back that up. People have their point at which sunk costs start to matter. That means that you might look at a $35-a-month gym membership and think it couldn’t compare to your warm house and an episode of Parks and Rec. But if you’re paying more than $100 a month, that’s “real money” to you. And so you’re more likely to try to make the most of it.

Any other reasons to justify these crazy costs? 

As with all cultural phenomena, status is huge. And there are gyms that are laced with status and tied to self-image. Just like there are folks who see themselves as Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drinkers, and folks who see themselves as Starbucks drinkers. You could easily argue the same for your workout. —Melissa Malamut

Check out more of our winter fitness package, “Stronger, Faster, Dirtier.”