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The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature Hardcover – June 21, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"What's your guilty pleasure? Junk food? Fast cars? Champagne? To shop until you drop? What makes consumers tick? Psychologist Gad Saad writes of the innate needs, preferences, and drives that spur many of our most treasured appetites and behaviors—all soft-wired into the human brain in deep history for purposes of survival and reproduction. We are natural born consumers. And as Saad elegantly examines our daily rituals and tastes (and he gives us troves of fascinating data from around the world), he brings our common human heritage to life. I'll never look at my high-heeled shoes or a buffet the same way again. It's a smart read for all who sell, all who buy, and all who really want to understand others and themselves. You may even come away thinking: I consume, therefore I am." --Helen Fisher, PhD, Biological Anthropologist, Rutgers University and author of Why Him? Why Her?

"I urge you to consume The Consuming Instinct! Using cogent examples from popular culture deftly mixed with an expert's grasp of modern evolutionary biology, Dr. Saad shows how our biology underlies our consumer choices. Like nothing else on the market today, it will help you understand why we purchase and pay attention as we do. Indeed, never has science for the lay-person been presented more cogently or accessibly when it comes to our daily economic activities." --David P. Barash, professor of psychology, University of Washington and co-author of Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Take Revenge

"Juicy burgers, Ferraris, pornography, and gift giving are the stuff of human nature. Evolutionary psychologist Gad Saad tells us just how and why, and much more, in The Consuming Instinct. With wit, charm, and crystal clarity, Saad lays bare the evolutionary underpinnings of consumerism." --Todd K. Shackelford, Ph.D., professor and Chair of Psychology, Oakland University, editor, Evolutionary Psychology (epjournal.net)

"What the jacket does not say is just how entertaining, enlightening and informative this book is as Saad reveals the reasons behind consumers' preferences for fat burgers, fancy cars and the trendiest fashions…By putting forward the idea of evolutionary economics, Saad opens up new concepts in marketing as well as a much clearer understanding of why we respond to certain products the way we do…For those curious about the reasons people spend their hard-earned money on the things they do, presented in an understandable format then look no further." --Monsters and Critics

About the Author

Gad Saad, Ph.D. (Montreal, Canada), a popular blogger for Psychology Today ("Homo-Consumericus"), 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, plus numerous scientific papers.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; First Edition edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616144297
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616144296
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Saad has been a pioneer in bringing evolutionary ideas to the field of business. An overwhelming body of literature has now demonstrated that human decision-making is influenced by adaptively motivated biases we inherited from our ancestors. It follows that those motivated biases will influence how we allocate our scarce economic resources. This has profound implications for consumer behavior, as Geoffrey Miller and others (Jill Sundie at UT, Vlad Griskevicius at Minnesota, and Josh Ackerman at MIT) have been arguing. These researchers have also been providing ample empirical demonstrations of the power of that viewpoint. Gad Saad has been been advancing an evolutionary approach to business for years, sometimes encountering opposition from colleagues in his field (who labor under a set of false Blank Slate assumptions that Saad reviews in the first chapter, along with brief rebuttals).

The consumer goods in Saad's clever title are not chosen randomly, but are matched to what he views as four overriding Darwinian pursuits:

1. Survival: We are here because our ancestors were inclined to eat fatty cooked meats and other calorie-dense foods scorned by all California vegans today. Transported into the present, our ancestors would have lined up at McDonald's for those juicy burgers in his title. In the modern world, Saad notes that the top ten restaurants are McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Starbuck's, Subway, Pizza Hut, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Domino's Pizza, and Dunkin' Donuts. That diet does not help us live to 90, but the inclinations that drive those choices probably helped our ancestors survive until reproductive age.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The aphorist, Aaron Haspel, once wrote: “Once you see human interaction as a contest to signal mating fitness, you never see it as anything else.” That’s both interesting and true, but for the purposes of this review, I’m going to need to paint with a broader brush: once you see all aspects of human existence as a product of evolution, you never see them as anything else. Modern-day consumerism is no exception and it’s the subject of Gad Saad’s fantastic book The Consuming Instinct.

Saad is a professor of marketing at Concordia University and writes a popular blog at Psychology Today called Homo Consumericus. Using various parts of evolutionary theory, Saad dissects modern-day consumer behavior with applaudable gusto. Parts of his analysis are sure to be offensive to some, which suggests to me that he’s on to something. As a general rule of thumb, if some people are strongly offended by an idea, it’s worth giving it special consideration. This is because many truths simply aren’t all that pleasant. Many people respond to these types of books with knee-jerk reactions full of personal attacks and hatred because they confuse positive statements with normative ones. I would urge these people to consider that explaining how things are says nothing about how they ought to be.

The subtitle of the book is What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature. Not surprisingly, they reveal quite a bit. These four items speak to the four Darwinian pursuits that underlie human existence: survival, reproduction, kin selection, and reciprocity.
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Format: Hardcover
This is basically a tour of the evolutionary psychology (EP) space, with a particular emphasis on consumer behavior. It's got all the standard theories and studies and authors, presented in a pretty engaging style.

There were two sections that were a little different and that I particularly liked. In one, at the beginning, the author takes on several arguments that are typically made against EP. Valuable stuff. In the other, at the end of the book, Saad argues for EP as a basis for all social science research. It's a bit of a stretch, but a very interesting idea.

So, why only 3 stars? There are a number of reasons:

- There's not a lot that's new here. If you read Geoffrey Miller's Spent, you probably don't need to read this one.
- The author forgets to tie in consumer behavior at points, focusing more on straight EP. The things he has to say are invariably very interesting, but he really can leave the reader hanging.
- The author jumps around quite a bit. He does typically end one section with a transition to the next, but some of these are very jarring and artificial.
- Saad likes to engage the reader by sharing some personal stories. Some of these are great. Some, though, are shaggy dog stories.
- His treatment of religion is quite negative ("Bronze Age superstitions that are antithetical to every rational tenet"). I don't really mind that much personally, but I just kept wondering why that tone was necessary. That's especially the case when you consider that there is some EP thought out there that basically says we evolved to believe.
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