Monday, September 2, 2013

The consuming instinct: What juicy burgers, ferraris, pornography, and gift giving reveal about human nature

By Gad Saad

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

There are 293 pages of text in this book and 45 pages of excellent notes (462 total). This means that there are approximately 1.6 footnotes per page. Most of the notes, incidentally, are academic (credible, highly reliable, and easy to trace).

In addition to the wide variety of superb sources, Gad Saad has an excellent, competent, and credible background to write such a book as this. Quoting from the inside flyleaf of the cover: "[He is] a popular blogger for Psychology Today, is a professor of marketing at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University. He holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption and is the author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, as well as numerous scientific papers."

Saad’s explanation for why he carefully chose the words in his subtitle (pages 12-13) was terrific. They relate to the four key Darwiian drives: 1) our penchant for fatty foods, 2) the sexual signals in the mating arena, 3) the evolutionary forces that shape human sexuality, and 4) gift giving—linked, says Saad, "to all four Darwinian overriding drives" (p. 13).

To give you a flavor of Saad’s writing, and what’s in store for readers with respect to subjects and vocabulary, note this excerpt from page 15: " . . . I provide an overview of evolutionary psychology and contrast it with the socialization perspective. I tackle some of the fallacies that persist with regard to evolutionary theory. I address the infamous nature-versus-nurture debate, as it helps in understanding which elements of consumption are learned, which are innate, and which are shaped by an inextricable melange of both forces" (p. 15).

If you are looking for a relevant learning experience, this book will serve that purpose in spades. Not only is it well-written, bujt the way Saad incorporates the research into his writing is exemplary. It makes for smooth reading along with the education. There is so much information in this book.

Saad’s examination of contemporary musical song lyrics — "some of the most powerful cultural fossils for those wishing to understand the evolution of the human mind" (p. 152) — is truly outstanding (pp. 152-158). He looks at television storylines, movies, and literature and proves to readers he is a pop culture junkie. This is an outstanding chapter: Cahpter 6, "Cultural Products: Fossils of the Human Mind" (pp. 149-176).

I think there is little question that whether you are highly educated or lack a degree in higher education, you will come away from this book "with a deep appreciation of the power of evolutionary theory in helping [people] navigate through [their] daily lives" (p. 293). It is truly astounding how much of our consuming instinct is guided by our biological heritages, and if you did not believe it before reading this book, the sheer weight of the evidence and the incredible number of examples throughout the book will not just leave you convinced, it will leave you overwhelmed. What a terrific book!





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