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Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior Hardcover – May 14, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Evolutionary psychologist Miller (The Mating Mind) examines conspicuous consumption in order to further his (not entirely complementary) goals—to rectify marketing's poor understanding of human spending behavior and critique consumerist culture. According to the author, our purchases are powerful indicators of our personality and are used to lure in suitable mates and friends. The book defends the current psychological view of personality as varying along six axes: intelligence, openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability and extroversion. While there is significant support for the author's contention that variation in these basic categories reflect genetic inheritance, preferences for each of them vary from society to society, from historical moment to moment and even within individual lives (e.g., conscientiousness tends to increase over the course of our lives as mating strategies shift from attracting short-term partners to maintaining long-term relationships). Miller is an engaging writer, even if his attempts at humor fall flat. What remains troubling is his failure to account for how a full range of traits can coexist in the same cultural environment and continue to be perpetuated across generations. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Evolutionary psychologist Miller (The Mating Mind) digs deep into the primal past of humankind to discover the roots of…modern marketing? Actually, his focus is more on the makings of modern consumer culture—of which marketing is, he argues, a dominant force. Since evolutionary psychology seeks to examine how natural selection acts on psychological and mental traits, Miller applies this knowledge to help us understand what actually motivates us to buy. He pokes fun at popular culture and at the things we buy and flaunt to inflate our self-esteem and try to make ourselves more attractive. Personality research can inform the study of consumer behavior, and Miller shows us how having a better understanding of our own personalities will help us avoid the pitfalls of runaway consumerism. After all, millions of years of evolution have honed humans' natural abilities to win friends and mates, so why resort to expensive and ridiculous substitutes for our true identities and personalities? For both lay readers and academics, reading this book should be considered time well "spent."—Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin, Whitewater
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020621
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #587,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
True to the spirit of this book, I purchased a flawless copy of it at a library book sale for $5 (I believe it was an unread review copy). As an insatiable reader of Evolutionary Psychology books, I immediately read it, even though I have several thousand other books previously purchased from library sales waiting in my queue. This is one of the most entertaining books I have read, both in terms of its academic content and the writing style (the author has a great sense of humor). The book does not assume background knowledge, though I found that it tied together ideas I had previously encountered in books such as "The Moral Animal", The Third Chimpanzee", "The Red Queen", "The Origins of Virtue", "The Economic Naturalist", etc. (all of which I also highly recommend). The description of consumers as narcissists (great spelling bee word, I hope I got it right) and the various discussions of the central six personality traits are quite thought-provoking. The author isn't afraid to discuss issues backed by evidence that are, however, "politically incorrect", such as the negative effects of the dearth of shared norms in culturally diverse communities. The book also stays consistently well-written and informative throughout (i.e. it shows no evidence of the last third of the book being rushed to meet a deadline or padded to meet a length requirement). The section toward the end about consumption taxes and negative/positive externalities should be required reading for everyone.

One final thing I admire about the book. Concerned parties (author, publisher, editor, etc.) didn't submit a fake 5-star first review posted by someone who has only reviewed one book and writes in an obviously promotional style. I think this book will receive great reviews based on merit. I actually read the book and highly recommend it.

Oh, one other thing. The jacket design is superb. The picture reminds me of myself hunting/gathering at Trader Joe's.
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Format: Hardcover
My husband and I play a game when we drive: he points out a car and I tell him what I think that driver thinks other people think of his choice of car. Then I say what I think it really reveals. A Hummer? The driver is a primal hunter-gatherer, powerful and dripping in testosterone. There are very different stories about the Jeep with no doors, the yellow Beetle, the big slow Cadillac.

Spent is all about the prehistoric origins behind the decisions to buy these cars, and every other product, as well. The science of human nature, called evolutionary psychology, teaches us that people decide to buy stuff to advertise "our biological potential as mates and friends." Understanding the reasons behind these decisions can help us become better consumers, and more aware of why people act the way they do.

It's a fascinating read! The idea that you can use the Info section on Facebook to accurately sum up a person is right on target. And I loved the quiz identifying the Central 6 human characteristics: General intelligence, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability and extraversion. Apparently I'm very open and pretty extraverted; I'll have to work on my stability!

Here's the chapter list:

1. Darwin Goes to the Mall
2. The Genius of Marketing
3. Why Marketing is Central to Culture
4. This Is Your Brain on Money
5. The Fundamental Consumerist Delusion
6. Flaunting Fitness
7. Conspicuous Waste, Precision and Reputation
8. Self-Branding Bodies, Self-Marketing Minds
9. The Central Six
10. Traits That Consumers Flaunt and Marketers Ignore
11. General Intelligence
12. Openness
13. Conscientiousness
14. Agreeableness
15. The Centrifugal Soul
16. The Will to Display
17. Legalizing Freedom
Exercises for the Reader
Further Reading and Viewing
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an evolutionary psychology (EP) look at consumerism. If you're not familiar with EP, this is probably not the best introduction (try Buss, Dawkins, or Ridley instead). If you are, this is definitely worth a read.

Miller focuses on trait display (how we show others we are worth mating with) as expressed through purchases. He concentrates a lot on the OCEAN personality inventory (also known as the Big 5), plus intelligence. OCEAN means openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. It's an inventory that has a lot more validity and serious research behind it than, say, something like Myers-Briggs (see Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are for more).

On the plus side, Miller has some fascinating insights. He also has a good writing style and a wicked sense of humor.

On the negative ... well, there's quite a bit. The first problem I saw was his having a really hard time simply getting to the point. It takes until chapter 3 before he really gets into it.

What does he spend the first two chapters doing? One is talking about himself. In fact, he's rather enamored and engages in quite a bit of trait signaling on his own. Take the section called About This Author. On the surface, he's letting you know his particular biases. A little reading, though, and it seems more like a personals ad: listens to Tori Amos and Ani DeFranco, drives a Land Cruiser, is a feminist and environmentalist, has lived abroad, has some impressive academic credentials, reads cool books, watches hip movies.

Another is going off on diversions.
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