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Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Evolutionary psychology sheds light on marketing: The items people buy send signals about their identity.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller examines modern consumer culture through a scientific lens. The result is thought-provoking, useful and often witty, but a bit uneven. Miller does of fine job of explaining evolutionary psychology and, especially, of showing how the endless purchases that define “consumerist capitalism” come from an unacknowledged need to demonstrate physical characteristics or personality traits to others. This section of the book will interest anyone seeking original social critique. The highly focused discussion of the “Central Six” personality traits provides a stable foundation for evaluating other people or marketing to them. The final section, in which Miller proposes social alternatives to consumerism, challenges existing culture, but is not nearly as convincing (or, strangely) as witty as the earlier sections. getAbstract recommends this book to marketing and human resources professionals, and to any reader who wants to think deeply about the foundations of societies and their economies.


Evolutionary Psychology, Marketing and “Consumerist Capitalism”

Why do people buy certain items, particularly really expensive, impractical things, like the Hummer H1, which costs $139,771 and gets 10 miles per gallon? The answer resides in biology, in the specific context in which humanity evolved. During most of history, people lived in “small social groups” where displaying status was crucial to surviving, snagging a mate, and defeating rivals and enemies. Although you may work in an office, not a forest, your entire being is designed to act as if you still lived in a tribal setting. That means when you buy something, you rarely do so to obtain that thing itself. Instead, you buy it to send a message to your peer group.

Humans are ruled by instincts below the level of consciousness. These instincts drive you – and everyone else – to display certain traits. How those traits manifest differs from culture to culture and by social norms, but in a modern consumerist capitalism society, you express them by buying items that send specific messages. This perspective challenges ideas across the political spectrum about both capitalism and marketing. For example, consumerist...

About the Author

Geoffrey Miller is author of The Mating Mind and a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of New Mexico.

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