January 9, 2010

Spent by Geoffrey Miller

Spent by Geoffrey Miller
- Sex Evolution and Consumer Behavior

[A wonderful book and it is a pleasure to read such book. In a nut shell, this brings up the saga of 'consumerist capitalism' where Marketing creating an illusion, even though humans uses 6 traits to know the other humans. In Geoff's own words, " Marketers still believe that premium products are bought to display wealth, status, and taste and they miss the deeper mental traits that people are actually wired to display - the six human traits]

However, Marketing do influence in our everyday life - personal, professional, political and religious life. Like chivalrous lovers, the best marketing-oriented companies help us discover desires we never knew we had, and ways of fulfilling them never imagined. Edward Bernays mentioned in his, 'Propaganda' book: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those hwo manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible gov. which is the true ruling of power of our country."

Book has 2 parts - the first part is describing human culture as it is, within a biological context and the second part is suggests some ways that we could change our human culture so it more happily combines the best features of prehistoric social life and modern technology.

Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' - a 1950s book - , mention 7 human needs of two categories. 'Deficiency needs' are drives to reduce states of deficiency or discomfort and are pursued only when a deficiency arises and they are:

Physiological need - breathing, drinking, eating, ... including having sex
Safety needs - health, well-being, personal security and financial security,...
Social needs - family, friendship, acceptance, belonging,...
Esteem needs - recognition, status, fame, glory, self-esteem, ...

'Growth needs' are drives toward 'transcendence' and are pursued whenever the individual is free to do so and they are:
Cognitive needs - to learn, explore, discover, create, increase knowledge & intelligence,..
Aesthetic needs - to experience beauty as found in nature, people or artifacts
Self- actualization needs - to fulfill one's potential and make the most of one's abilities.

[all these seven needs are in hierarchical - from Physical needs to self-actualization needs]

Marketing vs Mems:

Susan Blackmore's book says- The meme machine - , much of human culture reflects an evolutionary competition between memes: information units such as stories, anecdotes, ideas, catchphrases or jingles that can be remembered and repeated to others. Human popular culture consists of successful memes that reflect the interests and preferences of individual humans.

Big companies (conglomerates) relentlessly cross-promote their products through their all available media. For e.g. if Warner bros, releases a film, it will be typically be features on the covers of Time and People magazine, reviewed favorably by CNN and well advertised by AOL as these companies are belongs to Time-Warner. Currently in US there are four big advertising holding companies (Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic & Publics) who are at the heart of cultural engineering - not only in advertising, but also in design, marketing, media buying, public relations, and lobbying. They design memes, buy the airtime, & column inches in newspaper/web to distribute them. this meme view might likewise explain some cross-cultural difference in food preferences such as why Americans tend to turn all naturally savory foods into sweet desserts by such measures as adding barbecue sauce to meat, ketchup to french fires, honey-mustard dressing to salad,...

In US, we have lots of fat, salt, and sugar in processed foods partly because there are rich powerful trade org. that lobby politicians for gov. subsidies and contracts, weaker regulations.These more-powerful industry groups hugely amplify our eveloved food preference through massive political clout and marketing budgets for their food groups.

Meme perpetration - conscious, social institutionalized strategies for shaping popular views and preference is what millions of people are paid to do everyday

The fundamental consumerist delusion:

The most desirable traits are not wealth status and taste, and those most desirable traits are universal, stable, heritable traits closely related to biological fitness - traits like physical attractiveness, physical health, mental health, intelligence and personality. When we really want to find out w=about someone - as a potential friend, mate, co-worker, mentor, or political leader - there are the traits we are most motivated to assess accurately.

Can you remember anything specific worn by your spouse or best friend the day before yesterday? (except for few domains in which we have personal or professional interest). In fact, decades of social psychology research suggest that we automatically notice only a few basic traits when we see people: their size, shape, age, sex, race, familiarity, relatedness and attractiveness. We also notice special state of physiology (sleep, injury, sickness, pregnancy) and emotion (anger, fear, disgust, sadness, elation). For example, a 50 year old lady's face may look younger by using Botex dose/injection, but it cannot completely hide other aging factors such as neck, hand, her school friends/sisters, etc..

After we notice people's key demographics and physical traits, we seek information about their mental traits. How intelligent and mental healthy are they? What kind of personality do they have? What moral virtues do they signal through the political and religious beliefs that they espouse? Many mental disorders are also rather easy to detect within few minutes on the basis of appearance, behavior, and conversation. People with major depression tend to slump and look sad.; they speak softly slowly and monotonously,...

The accuracy of person perception tends to improve with age as we learn gradually and painfully which behavioral cues are the most reliable indicators of personality, intelligence and moral virtues. this explains why the dating coices made by teenagers have always seemed appallingly stupid to their parents. teenagers are overly influenced by the traits that are easiest to assess. By contrast, parents have decade more experience in assessing the harder-to-discern traits such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability and intelligence and in appreciating the longer-term benefits that these traits convey in human relationships.

Consumerism actually promotes two big lies. One is that above-average products can compensate for below-average traits when on is trying to build serious long-term relationship with mates, friends or family. A second big lie that consumerism products offer cooler. more impressive ways to display our desirable traits than any natural behavior could provide.

This is how consumerist capitalism works: it makes us forget our natural adaptions for showing off desirable fitness-related traits. It deludes us into thinking that artificial products work much better than they really do for showing off these traits. It confuses us about the traits we are trying to display by harping on vague terms at the wrong levels of description (wealth, status, taste) and by obfuscating the most stable heritable, and predictive traits discovered by individual differences research. the net result could be called the fundamental consumerist delusion - that other people care more about the artificial products you display through consumerist spending than about the natural traits you display through normal conversation, cooperation and cuddling.

Flaunting Fitness:

Almost all animals convey self-promoting information about the signaler and most animal signals convey little more than the individual's type (species, sex age) and quality (fitness, health, status and fertility). Human bodies are also full of fitness indicators that reveal reliable information about health and fertility and that were shaped in part by sexual selection to attract mates. These bodily signals of quality includ eour faces, voices, hair, skin,m gait and height - plus female breasts, buttocks, and waists and male beards, penis and upper-body muscle mass. Many human mental traits may have also evolved as fitness indicators, including our capacities for language, humor, art, music, creativity, intelligence and kindness.


To understand the costly signaling theory that explains much of consumption, it is easiest to consider how we distinguish real products from fake products - and why we care about the differences. Conspicuous cost and conspicuous precision are the two most basic features of hard-to-fake signals. These are the ones that cheap imitators try to fake. Every kind of high-value product, there is an endless struggle between the real and the fake, the genuinely valuable and the counterfeit. The fake ultimately illuminates and challenges the real, as consumers begin to question why they should pay the 'real' product's premium. Why bother with a real $8,000 3-caret diamond for an engagement ring, when a $4 CZ stone is indistinguishable to most people? Why bother with a real Rembrandt for $10 million when you can download a high-resolution digital image of one and print at FedEx Kinko's to make a visually indistinguishable full-size giclee print of it(with computer-printed color ink on real canvas). The fake reveal what a high proportion of a real product cost: a luxury brand markup, a pure profit premium a con. The irony is that with regard to purely pragmatic value, teh real version of the product is a bigger rip-off than the 'fake' version.

Why bother Signaling?
Costly signaling theorem became important in biology, because it clarified the diverse and profound benefits of signaling across many species. If an animal can credibly signal its individual qualities ot others, that can bring several benefits.
Some of the main ones are:

1. One's quality signals can solicit parental care - Young animals that credibility signal their prospects for surviving and reproducing can solicit more parental care, feeding and protection.
2. Can be used to solicit care and investment from other genetic relatives. This is called kin selection and just as parents have incentives to allocate their parental solitude to the most 'deserving' off-spring. The healthiest, most attractive individuals in an extended family clan tend to elicit the greatest attention and fondness from their relatives.
3. To solicit social support, alliances and friendship from non-relatives (the local celebrities are first protected and last abandoned under conditions of warfare, starvation or illness.
4. To attract and retain sexual partners - the gateways to reproductive success.

Self-branding and Self-marketing Minds.

Folks wisdom holds that beauty advertise, health and fertility.Pubilius Syrus - ancient roman mime- says, "A fair exterior is a silent recommendation". Oscar Wilde wrote, " It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances". Martha Graham said, " the body never lies". As Darwin realized, these human traits are all the result of sexual selection. Moreover each human sex has its own luxury fitness indicators. Male have beards, large jaws, large upper-body muscles, and longer thicker penis than those of other greater apes. Females have much -enlarged breasts and buttocks and relatively thinner waists compared with those of other great apes. Some of these traits (lips, breasts, buttocks, penises0 even get engorged with blood during sexual arousal. They are salient and sexy. they are costly and complex and they are hard-to-fake signals of survival and reproductive ability. In humans (male), sexual selection has affected each sex's facial features about equally, resulting in distinctively male 'testosteronized' features (more prominent brows, jaws, chins, and noses; deeper-set, smaller eyes, beards) that are strikingly differently from female ' estrogenized' features (larger, more prominent eyes, fuller lips, lighter, smoother skin).

The rise of Triathlon is a classic example of runaway trait display. it is not only require a higher level of physical fitness, but also higher levels of wealth, training effort and conscientiousness. Compared with the marathon, it also resulted in body better suited to human sexual preferences for general health, strength, and fertility; it sends out strong signals drive out weak.

There are many consumers wind up disappointed with products that promise to enhance their physical appearance. They realize that youth, health, fertility, and fitness, are actually hard to fake because people have evolved for 1000s of years to be very discerning.

The Central Six Traits:

William James noted, "There is very little difference between one man and another, but what there is, is very important'.

GOCASE are the six fundamental traits that we try to display to one another through the goods and services that we buy. General Intelligence, Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Stability and Extroversion. these are genetically heritable, stable across life and universal across cultures. They are very salient when we choose social or sexual partners.

G is for general intelligence. It is also known as smarts, brains, general cognitive ability, or IQ. Higher intelligence predicts higher average success in every domain of life. It is one of the most sexually attractive traits in every culture studied for both sexes - in everyday life (both personal and professional life too). General intelligence correlates positively with:

overall brain size
sizes of specific cortical areas
concentration in the brain of particular neuro-chemicals
age at which the cortex is thickest in childhood
speed of performing basic sensory-motor tasks
speed with which nerve fibers carry impulses through the arms and legs
physical symmetry of the face and body
physical health
semen quality in men
mental health
romantic attractiveness

In order to increase IQ, the human-capital view argues that education actually confers 'added value' on students, making the3m better workers and citizens who are more useful to society by transforming latent into manifest skills and knowledge. A problem with this view is that there are much more efficient ways to learn career-relevant skills and facts: through reading books, watching documentaries, talking with experts... Companies understand perfectly well that higher education is not the most efficient way to prepare employees which is why they spend more than $10 bn per year to corporate training in US (vs. higher education spending 4200 bn per year). Contemporary higher education is absurdly expensive, time-consuming way to guarantee intellectual and personality traits that could be measured for more cheaply, easily and reliably by other means.

In Good Will Hunting, the title character, a self-educated genius, mocks the Harvard students:"you wasted $150,000 on an education you could got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library". Charles William Eliot, Harvard President from 1869to 1909 admitted, " One could get a first-class education from a shelf of books five feet long" - as long as it was the right five feet, such as the fifty volumes of Harvard Classics that he edited.

O is for openness to experience: curiosity, novelty seeking, broadmindedness, interest in culture, ideas, and aesthetics. Openness predicts emotional sensitivity, social tolerance, and political liberalism. People high on openness tend to seek complexity, and novelty, readily accept changes and innovations and prefer grand new visions to mundane, predictable ruts.

C is for conscientiousness: self-control, willpower, reliability, consistency, dependability, trustworthiness and the ability to delay gratification. Such people pursue long-term goals, make plans, keep everything organized, seek perfection, crave achievement and prefer doing one focused task at a time.

A is for agreeableness: warmth, kindness, sympathy, empathy, trust, compliance, modesty, benevolence, peacefulness, In game-theory terms, the agreeable make better reciprocates, and contribute more to public goods, because they value their other people's well-being. tier motto is 'when in doubt, give'.

S for stability, esp. emotional stability: adaptability, equanimity, maturity, stress resistance. People high in stability are resilient: usually optimistic, calm, at ease, and quick to rebound from setbacks.

E for extroversion: how friendly, gregarious, talkative, funny, expressive, assertive, active, excitement,seeking, and socially self-confident one is.

Books to read:
'The Evolutio9nary Bases of Consumption by Gad Saad (2007)
Luxury Fever by Robert H. Frank
The winner-take-it all Society by Robert H. Frank
The meme machine by Susan Blackmore (1999)
fifty volumes of 'Harvard classics' - edited by Charles William Eliot.

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