Why the burgers, the porn, the engagement ring? Blame biology.

At least buying an engagement ring is less painful than getting your head bitten off for love.

I interviewed Professor Gad Saad about his new book The Consuming Instinct: What juicy burgers, ferraris, pornography and gift giving reveal about human nature. I consumed the book in a few hours and thoroughly enjoyed it. A shortened version of my Q&A was published in the Post; so here’s a longer version:

Humans are ravenous consumers. We make hundreds of consumption-related decisions a day and for anyone who might pause to wonder why — Why do I love double cheeseburgers? Why do men obsess over Porsches and pornography? — Gad Saad offers a response. It’s biology. The professor of marketing at Montreal’s Concordia University argues that consumer behaviour can be explained by Darwinian pursuits such as survival and reproduction:

Q I enjoyed consuming your book. Can that be explained through evolution?

We’ve evolved big brains that need constant nourishment.

Q Why do men constitute the majority of car collectors and 99% of Ferrarri owners in North America?

The argument here is across endless sexually reproducing species, typically the males will engage in some sort of courtship ritual to impress the ladies. The classic example of  sexual signaling would be the peacock’s tail. Human consumers engage in this type of behaviour in countless ways. Women are more likely to beautify themselves through cosmetics, through wearing high heels. Men will engage in sexual signaling by trying to identify that they have high status: only truly high class guys can drive an Aston Martin the young guys can pretend with their mustangs but they don’t have the same big tail as me, so to speak.

Q And this argument also extends to gambling — as men are more likely to be pathological gamblers?

Exactly. If you look at the demographic profile, they tend to be low status, single males who tend to be most likely to be sufferers. What does that suggest? Men tend to compete in the mating market for resources so this becomes one of many strategies to reap resources.

Q You also surmise that when beautiful women are around the behaviour increases. So perhaps, James Bond might more likely fold at the poker table if the love interest wasn’t looking over his shoulder? 

When you have beautiful women around me, that increases my desire to engage in this type of sexual signaling. Women are attracted to men who attack risks and come out unscathed not the other way around. In endless cultures, rites of passages that relate to physical risk-taking tend to be male-based.

Q In your book, you trace the evolutionary influences for gift giving and cite some examples of “nuptial gifts” in nature such as antelopes and chimpanzees sharing food with females to increase mating opportunities.

I always joke: the best way to ensure that you never have a second date is to be cheap on your first date. This happens in exactly the same form across countless cultures. This is part of the ritual that says, ‘Hey, look. I’m generous. I’ve got resources. I am willing to share my resources.”

Q For men who complain about having to buy an engagement ring, women can now say, hey, at least I’m not biting your head off. Literally.

That’s the truly most romantic species [some insect species including the praying mantis and black widow spider]. For love, he is willing to be eaten alive. That demonstrates an important theory: what matters to evolution is not the maintenance of the organism – it’s that your genes survive. That’s why you’re willing to jump in the river to save your children and take the chance of you dying. Animals, including humans, don’t do this consciously. Most people don’t know the evolutionary basis of why they do things. If you have sex, you don’t think: I’m having sex tonight because it’s going to propagate my genes.

Q In terms of gift giving, are all four grandparents equally invested in their grandchildren?

It turns out that the maternal grandmother is the ones who invests by far the most. The paternal grandfather is the one who invests the least. Why is that? It’s not just genetic relatedness that matters — it’s also genetic certainty. Your maternal grandmother is absolutely assured you are her grandchild. There is no such thing in nature as maternal uncertainty but there is paternal uncertainty. When you’re looking at how families invest in you…that is moderated by the assuredness of the genetic link.

Q You’ve devoted some parts of your books to haters and those with anti-evolution concerns. What do you want people to take away from your research?

People say that if you explain something you justify something. But that’s like arguing that an oncologist who studies cancer is pro-cancer. You’re never going to be able to fully understand the rich tapestry of consumption if you negate the fact that we are biological consumers. Of course, the environment matters; of course, culture matters. But please don’t forget, that biology also matters. Underneath all of our cross-cultural differences there are things that make us extraordinarily similar.

The Consuming Instinct lands in stores in June.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s