An Interview of Geoffrey Miller by Eban Pagan

Geoffrey Miller is a Professor of Evolution Psychology at the University of New Mexico. He has recently released a new book called “Spent – Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior”

Eban Pagan first met Geoffrey Miller some years ago when Eban was heavily into the relationship marketing area. At the time Geoffrey was studying human behavior as it related to the finding of a partner. With his new book now much more related to business Geoffrey recently contacted Eban Pagan who suggested that he conduct an interview. I was lucky enough to hear the interview this morning and have put this summary together for you.

A Couple of Definitions First

Psychology – Systematic conscious attempt to understand human nature – digging beneath the surface of human behavior

Evolution Psychology – Understanding human nature in the context of human evolution.

What Drives Us Each Day

We all need to understand that social influences shape all of our interests and desires. For example Women through out their 28 day cycle change the way they look and feel . This is especially true when they are more fertile. At this time they are become more appealing to men, they dress and feel better and are more attracted to the masculine traits of men.

On the other hand single males are constantly and unconsciously driven to find a mate and they are prepared to spend big to make themselves look and feel better. They buy new cars, stylish clothes, go to University, try to get a better a job. Everything in fact to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex.

Animals also do this as well. If we look at Peacocks. They send signals to prospective partners via their magnificent tail. Mocking Birds also do this but this time via their amazing singing.

Humans can perceive the personality traits of other people very quickly. That is why speed dating works. We do this all the time. We evaluate every person we meet. Will this person make a good friend, a good work collogue, a mate, anything?

Consumer behavior can also be analyzed via this Evolution Psychology. Most psychology taught in business schools today is 50 years old and out of date for the understanding of modern consumers.
Tests like Myers-Briggs have now become outdated in the light of modern understanding of Evolution Psychology.

People get their status from different areas. What they consume, what charities they support, what their home and work life is like, their friends and choice of partners. These are all connected. For example:

  • Scientist are motivated by their work – being published and recognized by their peers is what excites them.
  • Day Traders are motivated by money
  • People who have lots of money like to give to charity

All of these traits are about your status. What you think you look like in the eyes of others.

Conspicuous consumption – Demonstrates to others that you have so much money that you can spend it anyway you like – It is about demonstrating that I can afford it. This is very similar to the Peacocks tail. It makes a darn good signal to others.

Conspicuous Charity – Similar to Conspicuous Consumption – Being seen to be monogamous towards others.

If you think about it these are two sides of the same coin – both about status seeking. They want others to know about their deeds and they want to get their social kudos.

The interesting thing is that if people are in the mating condition they are more interested in Conspicuous Consumption. Men in particular will do this. Women also do this by but more often by Conspicuous Charity. Humans are hard wired to do these things.

Most companies do not take advantage of this information for their marketing. Understanding this will give you a significant advantage. You will then know how to market to different demographic groups e.g. single versus married women.

The Perception of Others

People are evolutionary predisposed to signal their wealth and their taste but be aware that other people don’t care so much – If fact they really don’t care. Ask yourself what brand clothes do your co-workers work?, What watch does your boss wear? Most of these signals are missed.

What people notice mostly is how we act, what we do, do we keep our promises, are we kind, etc.

The new theory of understanding is covered by the “Big Five Personality Traits”. These are:

  • Openness – Being open to experience – new ideas, exposing yourself to books music art, are you an early adopter, are you happy to adopt new business practices. People with a low score in Openness are more conservative. They Look for more conservative friends and mates.
  • Conscientiousness – reliability – kept awake at night if you forget something. Low Conscientiousness people are more impulsive, have low credit rating
  • Extraversion – How outgoing you are?
  • Agreeableness – Kindness
  • Neuroticism – is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability.

See this entry at Wikipedia for a more complete definition.

People are generally happy with their level of each of the big five personality traits. Intelligence is the other big factor – This will determine how well you do in life. How well you drive, how well you do in work, how well you negotiate, how well you do in relationships, etc. It is also why car insurance companies will charge university graduates less money because they assume that people who graduate have higher intelligence and as a result will have less accidents.

How you score at the Big Five Personality Traits depend more on your genes than on the environment. What you score at age 15 will most likely be the same at age 75. These are traits that you inherited from your ancestors.

Your Happiness

You should invest in your key relationships in life as this will make you happier. Building good relationships at home and at work will pay you back many fold in the future.

If you look at how Hunter Gathers lived. They spent about twenty hours a week in gathering food. Their child care was a communal exercise with sisters helping new mums. Most of the rest of their time they talked with each other and managed their status and social standing within the group.

When you are selecting a person for your group e.g. with potential employees, with suppliers even customers, you need to know how these people score on the big five personality traits.

  • You can then ask how does my product mesh with my customers traits.
  • How do we set up the company so that suppliers will be happy with us.
  • What things can we do to make our employees happy.

Evolution Psychology is a study about what’s natural – how human psychology works. “Spent – Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior” is a book about understanding this and how we can use this knowledge to enhance our lives, our business, our marketing

If you are interested you can buy it at Amazon via the link below

Remember, enjoy the journey.

Mark Buhagiar

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