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    Like World War Z Or Justin Bieber? Thank Evolution
    By News Staff | June 13th 2013 01:06 PM | 2 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    If you watch musicals from the 1950s or teen comedies from the 1990s, you find a lot of movies with different titles but the themes and plotlines barely change; two friends competing for a girl in the former or some teen wants to improve another teen, who becomes really popular, in the latter.

    It's not that Hollywood lacks imagination, we are naturally drawn toward a specific set of universal narratives within cultural products, says a new paper. We have evolved to like stories about Superman saving strangers or Brad Pitt fighting zombies. 

    It's evolutionary consumerism, says Concordia University marketing professor Gad Saad. Little in consumer behavior can be fully understood without the guiding light of evolution, he writes in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. It's not just films, of course, that would be silly.  Pop music lyrics are "one of the most direct windows to our evolved mating psychology", Saad says. From Bieber to Beyoncé, it's all about signaling wealth and finding a mate. 

    The focus of 90% of songs is on universal sex-specific preferences in the attributes we desire in prospective mates, Saad notes Male singers show off their wealth and engage in conspicuous consumption via high status brand mentions while women denigrate men of low social status.

    It's just who we are. So if the girl group Destiny's Child sings about being "Bootylicious", Darwin himself would want to get behind Beyoncé. Makes total sense when you think about it.

    "The human drive to consume is rooted in a shared biological heritage based around four key Darwinian factors: survival, reproduction, kin selection and reciprocal altruism. These fundamental evolutionary forces shape the narratives that are created by film producers or song writers," says Saad, who holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioural Sciences and Darwinian Consumption in the Business School.  "Romance novels, pop songs and movie plotlines always come back to the Darwinian themes of survival (injuries and deaths), reproduction (courtships, sexual assaults, reputational damage), kin selection (the treatment of one's progeny), and altruistic acts (heroic attempts to save a stranger's life). Movies, television shows, song lyrics, romance novels, collective wisdoms, and countless other cultural products are a direct window to our biologically based human nature." 

    It's not just cultural products that demonstrate the evolutionary roots of what Saad terms "Homo consumericus." From the food we eat to the clothing we buy, we're always under the influence of evolution. That's bad news for politicians who want to ban Big Gulps. They are being anti-biology. 

    For Saad, the practical implications are clear: "In order to achieve commercial success, cultural products typically have to offer content that is congruent with our evolved human nature." That means that Clark Kent will fall for Lois Lane while Superman saves the planet for a long time to come.




    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    So, in the absence of anything specific [that actually resembles evidence] we simply take our cultural entertainment and attribute it to evolution.  I don't know if that's just lazy or dumb.

    What is always so disappointing in such assessments, is the amateurish inability to distinguish sex from reproduction.
    ...we're always under the influence of evolution.
    Hard to believe that someone actually went to school and received an advanced education to come up with that gem.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thanks for good article,
    I used to bemoan social trends that made no sense until I applied social evolution thinking to it
    Large scale tastes preferences (gotta drive a large SUV, gotta wear this trending outfit) made no sense for typical American mom with 2 or 3 children taking them to soccer

    Yet it's our ability to copy success of others that has contributed so much to our success as species; lower apes as adults don't emulate new techniques nearly as well as human adults
    It seems our ability to copy what we see as a better way furthers our success as species, even when some of what we percieve as a better way isn't
    So I don't bemoan mass appeal of trends and group thinkiong as overall, that in itself is a better way