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The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption

The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption

Foreword by Petet C. Whybrow
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption
    Book Description:

    Our drive to consume -- our desire for food, clothing, smart phones, and megahomes -- evolved from our ancestors' drive to survive. But the psychological and neural processes that originally evolved to guide mammals toward resources that are necessary but scarce may mislead us in modern conditions of material abundance. Such phenomena as obesity, financial bubbles, hoarding, and shopping sprees suggest a mismatch between our instinct to consume and our current environment. This volume brings together research from psychology, neuroscience, economics, marketing, animal behavior, and evolution to explore the causes and consequences of consumption. Contributors consider such topics as how animal food-storing informs human consumption; the downside of evolved "fast and frugal" rules for eating; how future discounting and the draw toward immediate rewards influence food consumption, addiction, and our ability to save; overconsumption as social display; and the policy implications of consumption science.Taken together, the chapters make the case for an emerging interdisciplinary science of consumption that reflects commonalities across species, domains, and fields of inquiry. By carefully comparing mechanisms that underlie seemingly disparate outcomes, we can achieve a unified understanding of consumption that could benefit both science and society.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32538-7
    Subjects: Psychology, Marketing & Advertising

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Peter C. Whybrow

    In biological terms it’s simple enough: we consume to live. Without sustenance all creatures wither and die. Thus, at the core of consumptive desire is the need for nourishment. Because humans evolved under conditions of privation and danger, the drive to satisfy hunger is a primary passion, a force comparable to seeking sex and security and one powerfully rewarded.

    Millennia ago, when finding a fruit tree was a rare delight and dinner had a habit of running away, such brain systems of immediate reward were a survival adaptation, strengthening resolve and enhancing success in the hunt. But now that we...

  4. Introduction: Toward an Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    Stephanie D. Preston, Morten L. Kringelbach and Brian Knutson

    In a single news program, one may see segments about the rising rates of obesity, the devastating failure of our financial markets, tips on how to save money and lose weight, and slice-of-life stories about people who compulsively hoard goods in their home. This volume examines whether these stories share a common thread, and explores these commonalities from an interdisciplinary scientific perspective. At some level, all of these behaviors representundesirableresource-allocation decisions. Though these decisions may emanate from fundamental neural and psychological processes that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to adaptively guide mammals toward resources that...

  5. Evolutionary Perspectives

    • 1 Reciprocity in Primates
      (pp. 3-32)
      Sarah F. Brosnan, Frans B. M. de Waal and Darby Proctor

      Acquiring food and acquiring mates are probably the two most critical decisions that any animal ever has to make. Without the former, survival is not possible; without the latter, one’s genes are not passed on, and thus survival isn’t relevant. Why, then, if food is so critical, do individuals of many species share it? In some cases, the answer is quite simple. For instance, in any species with maternal care, mothers share food of some form with their offspring so that they will survive and flourish. This is particularly the case in mammals. Mammalian mothers obligately lactate, providing food for...

    • 2 The Fundamental Motives for Why We Buy
      (pp. 33-58)
      Vladas Griskevicius, Joseph P. Redden and Joshua M. Ackerman

      People spend much of their monthly income on housing, transportation, and clothing (source: How the Average U.S. Consumer Spends Their Paycheck, retrieved fromhttp://www.visualeconomics.comin 2010). What motivates people to buy these things? At the most basic level, the answer is straightforward: We seek housing for shelter, transportation to get from point A to point B, and clothing to protect us from the elements. Yet people typically do not purchase the first or the cheapest house, car, or outfit that can provide these essentials.

      The more pertinent question about consumers’ behavior, then, is “Why would a person choose to purchase...

    • 3 The Evolutionary Instincts of Homo consumericus
      (pp. 59-76)
      Gad Saad

      In the past two decades, evolutionary psychology has established itself as a vibrant discipline and has grown in stature. On March 5, 2012, using “evolutionary psychology” as a search string, I conducted a Google Scholar search to determine the total number of hits per each year in the period 1988–2011. I chose 1988 because that is arguably the year in which evolutionary psychology was founded as a distinct approach for studying human behavior from an evolutionary perspective. (See Daly and Wilson 1988.) Figure 3.1 illustrates the exponential growth of evolutionary psychology from 31 hits in 1988 to 5,030 in...

    • 4 Myopia, Hyperbolic Discounting, and Mental Time Travel: Evolutionary Accounts of Lifetime Decisions
      (pp. 77-94)
      Stephen E. G. Lea

      My aim in this chapter is to propose an account of the key facts about human intertemporal choice within a framework of an evolutionary approach to psychology. Intertemporal choice is one of the areas (the areapar excellence,I would argue) in which the neoclassical rational-choice approach to economic theory—that is, predicting economic behavior by assuming that people make choices that are in their individual best interests—produces predictions that are in flagrant disagreement with the empirical facts. (See Loewenstein and Thaler 1989 and the chapter by Rick in this volume.) Intertemporal choices determine major lifetime outcomes, such as...

  6. Food, Foraging, and Saving

    • 5 Simple Heuristics for Deciding What to Eat
      (pp. 97-110)
      Peter M. Todd and Sara L. Minard

      Singapore is a food lover’s playground. Combining culinary traditions from more than a half-dozen mingling cultures, the small island nation boasts a vast array of dishes to try, and an even wider range of food stalls and restaurants to try them at. The local guide to eating places, theMakansutra,lists 152 types of meals and snacks and evaluates more than 1,200 purveyors in detail, down to the method used to make their sambal sauce. Reading it and absorbing the information it contains might take several days, but poring over its 488 pages would allow the hungry visitor to determine...

    • 6 Decisions, Memory, and the Neuroecology of Food-Storing Birds
      (pp. 111-126)
      David F. Sherry

      The interdisciplinary science of consumption seeks to explain familiar human behavior and the social and individual problems that consumption can give rise to by examining, in an integrative fashion, the function, the evolution, and the neural basis of consumption. Elsewhere in this volume, Preston and Vickers describe humans’ ability to save material goods, Webley, Rick, Frank, and Lea discuss the ability to save money, and Robinson et al., Plassman and Wager, and Todd and Minard discuss human consumption of food and drugs of abuse. But humans are not the only species that bank resources for later use. Just as we...

    • 7 The Psychology of Acquisitiveness
      (pp. 127-146)
      Stephanie D. Preston and Brian D. Vickers

      Modern humans are obsessed with their possessions. People spend inordinate amounts of time and income—even borrowing against their own uncertain futures—to acquire houses, cars, clothing, and any manner of goods deemed necessary to fill the spaces of their lives. Though many of these goods are surely useful and necessary, our material excesses have grown in recent decades to a point of backlash. Countless books, blogs, and magazine articles are now dedicated to teaching people how to reduce, organize, and practice extreme forms of voluntary simplicity, such as the “zero footprint ” lifestyle. (See, for example, Gabbert and Schein...

    • 8 Tightwads, Spendthrifts, and the Pain of Paying: New Insights and Open Questions
      (pp. 147-160)
      Scott I. Rick

      Many decisions in life, from the mundane to the monumental, involve tradeoffs among costs and benefits occurring at different times. Enjoying a piece of chocolate cake today, for example, can take a toll in the future in the form of slightly increased weight, among other added health risks. Choosing not to indulge is difficult because the costs of immediate indulgence are not only delayed but often intangible. The amount of weight one gains after consuming one piece of cake may be imperceptible, especially if the consumer is not closely monitoring his or her weight. Such delayed and intangible costs often...

  7. Neurobiological Perspectives

    • 9 Appetite, Consumption, and Choice in the Human Brain
      (pp. 163-184)
      Brian Knutson and Uma Karmarkar

      According to the Tibetan Buddhistbhavacakra(wheel of life), people who have lived less-than-exemplary lives are reborn in lower realms. Those unfortunate enough to be sent to the realm ofpretas(hungry ghosts) awaken as ravenous beings whose tiny mouths and necks block sustenance from entering their large but empty stomachs. The hungry ghosts thus continually suffer from insatiable appetites (Gyatso 1992). This seemingly exotic fate of the hungry ghosts symbolizes a more common earthly state of affairs: when appetite cannot be sated with consumption, as in the case of addiction, the rhythm of life is permanently disrupted. Without the...

    • 10 Incentive Salience in Addiction and Over-Consumption
      (pp. 185-198)
      Michael J. F. Robinson, Terry E. Robinson and Kent C. Berridge

      Most adults have used a potentially addictive drug at least once, if caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are included in addition to illicit drugs. In some cases, contact with a substance is so frequent and socially accepted that many people fail to recognize it as a “drug” However, even among those who have used such potent drugs as cocaine or heroin, relatively few develop formal addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking, impairment of social and psychological functions, and/or damage to health. Typically it involves overwhelming involvement with the addictive reward, loss of control, and narrowing of interests. According to...

    • 11 Balancing Consumption: Brain Insights from Pleasure Cycles
      (pp. 199-218)
      Morten L. Kringelbach

      The past twenty years have seen significant progress in the scientific study of pleasure. One strategy has been to define pleasure as a driving force for ensuring survival and procreation of both individuals and species (Kringelbach 2005; Kringelbach and Berridge 2010). As such, pleasure could be seen as evolution’s boldest trick, and neural mechanisms for pleasure have been selected for and conserved only if they ultimately play a key role in fulfilling Darwinian imperatives of gene proliferation via improved survival and procreation, suggesting that the capacity for pleasure must have been fundamentally important in evolutionary fitness (Darwin 1872; Panksepp 1999;...

    • 12 How Expectancies Shape Consumption Experiences
      (pp. 219-240)
      Hilke Plassmann and Tor D. Wager

      The act of consumption is a primal and important one, essential for the survival of virtually all species. However, human consumption differs from that of other species in many ways. We consume foods, goods, and experiences. Our consumption goes far beyond products that satisfy basic survival needs, and includes the satisfaction of such higher-order needs as the needs to think, believe, and belong (Cacioppo and Petty 1982; Maslow 1959). Multidisciplinary evidence suggests that important factors influencing the value or enjoyment derived from consumption are also based on psychological associations and cognitive concepts (for example, brand images, beliefs about the quality...

  8. Consumption Across the Life Span

    • 13 The Development of Saving
      (pp. 243-262)
      Paul Webley

      Saving is usually conceived of as deferred consumption. To buy something you have to have saved money, even if only for the limited time from when you earned it or were given it to arriving at the store or market. Saving for a “rainy day” is just deferred emergency consumption, and saving for one’s children is just deferring the consumption of others. So saving is commonly seen as the means through which individuals adjust the flow of their income (or incoming resources) to their spending (or consumption of resources), as money (or other resources) rarely arrives in the right amounts...

    • 14 Consumer Behavior Across the Life Span: A Life History Theory Perspective
      (pp. 263-280)
      Chiraag Mittal, Vladas Griskevicius and Bruce J. Ellis

      The economist Harry Markowitz developed modern portfolio theory, which delineates how to optimally allocate investments to maximize financial gains. Yet Markowitz proved “incapable of applying” his theory to his own retirement fund, which he simply split 50/50 between stocks and bonds (Zweig 1998). “I should have computed the historical co-variances of the asset classes and drawn an efficient frontier,” Markowitz recalled. “Instead, I visualized my grief if the stock market went way up and I wasn’t in it—or if it went way down and I was completely in it.” Optimally allocating resources is not an easy task, even for...

    • 15 Older Adults as Consumers: An Examination of Differences by Birth Cohort
      (pp. 281-298)
      Noah J. Webster, Toni C. Antonucci, Carolyn Yoon, Wayne R. McCullough, Debra N. Fin and Debra L. Hartsell

      It has been widely recognized that the United States, and indeed much of the developed world, is experiencing a demographic revolution (Kalache, Barreto, and Keller 2005). This demographic revolution is evidenced by a fundamental change in the age structure of the population. As recently as 100 years ago the population could be described as shaped like a pyramid, with a majority of people being children under the age of 16 and with very few older people. This has changed so drastically that the population structure is now most frequently described as a barrel-like shape, with the number of young and...

    • 16 Consumption as Pollution: Why Other People’s Spending Matters
      (pp. 299-310)
      Robert H. Frank

      In a 1978 book, the economist Thomas Schelling posed a question about hockey players, who when left to their own devices almost never wore helmets: Why, in secret votes, did they vote for a rule requiring helmets? If it is better to wear a helmet, Schelling wondered, why don’t players just wear them? Why do they need rules?

      Schelling’s answer began with the standard assumption that most hockey players care about both their personal safety and winning their games. Because skating without a helmet lets a player see and hear a little better, and may help intimidate his opponents, it...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 311-312)
  10. Index
    (pp. 313-318)