Archives for Consumer Behavior
If you’ve been reading Real World Research for a while, you may remember the “fat old bitch” incident. (If not, read about it here, and here.) The current fracas over Rush Limbaugh’s unbelievably inappropriate sexist rant against Sandra Fluke brings this back to my mind I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend a new documentary I’ve seen twice now and could easily sit through again. It’s called Miss Representation, and it’s all about how the media’s representation of women shapes our attitudes and contributes to women's lack of power in this country. Lack of power? The “feminazis”? Don't be silly. We're modern, liberated, in-charge women. I wish. Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the population but only 17 percent of Congress. America ranks 90th in the world in women in legislature. Even China is more progressive than we are in that respect. Women hold a whopping three percent of power positions in the media—and that includes TV, radio, publishing, online media—all of it. So this means that pretty much everything we (and, more importantly, our children) see in the media is filtered through the sensibilities of men—and that is not to our benefit.
Have you been watching "Downton Abbey" like the rest of us? Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message. If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices. Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I'm not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast. It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life. But the book taught me as much about myself as others. Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life. And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others." I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me. And while I've been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
I love me some What Not To Wear —or any makeover show, for that matter. I get a kick out of watching Stacy and Clinton take frumpy dumpies and zazz them up into snazzy sassies. I don’t always agree with the styling (what is this obsession with flat irons?), but usually, the afters are lots better than the befores. Women on these show who start out resistant to the makeover process often argue that what’s important is what’s inside, that appearances are superficial, and that people should respect them no matter how limp their hair or saggy-baggy their clothes. I agree, in theory, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s not even the world animals live in—appearance counts for them, too. The peacock’s tail isn’t exactly practical, but the ladies love it. Lots of research has shown that natural beauty is an advantage in life, and natural beauty would be considered a biological phenotype. You’re born that way (or not). But recent research looks at whether the “extended phenotype” has any benefits. In the nonhuman kingdom, extended phenotype would be “the spider’s web, the hermit crab’s shell, the bowerbird’s bower and the beaver’s dam,” the researchers write. In the human world—at least in America—the extended phenotype includes cosmetics. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently we try because it seems women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent.
What is your favorite kind of gift to receive? My favorite is useful gifts. Socks, for example. A nice sweatshirt—nicer than I might buy myself. Something related to one of my hobbies. Food gifts are nice. They always fit and don’t take up space. My least favorite is gift cards, which stress me out a little because then I have to decide what gift to buy myself. That’s a lot of pressure. And I’m at an age when tsotskes are a headache. I have a house full of stuff already. These are gifts I also rarely give. Research has found that experiences make people happier than possessions. I like those, too. I don’t remember what gift my husband gave me on my last birthday, but I do remember the fun we had a baseball game that day. A festive dinner with friends is a gift in itself. Gifts are interesting, when you really stop to think about them. Dr. Dan Ariely, a Duke University researcher and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions has a nifty story in the Wall Street Journal about gift-giving. Rational economists, he points out, think gifts are just like burning money.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a great story about celebrities trying to win the New Yorker magazine’s cartoon-caption contest. And the operative word is “trying.” Zach Galifianakis got so frustrated, he finally gave up. Roger Ebert tried 107 times. Maureen Dowd wrote at least one caption I think was funnier than the winning caption. Remember that as you read the rest of this post. I entered the contest once and never again. The more I tried, the less likely I was to come up with not just a funny caption, but anything at all. My mind would go blank. According to University of New Mexico anthropologist Gil Greengross, that means I’m not a funny person. Greengross and psychologist Geoffrey Miller conducted research designed to explore humor ability as it relates to mating success, and they used the cartoon-caption contest as a way to judge participants’ humor ability.
According to research that will be published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior, women are more likely to buy clothes and make-up their teenage daughters like than the other way around. A press release explains: The study, conducted through questionnaires, sampled 343 mother-daughter pairs, with an average age of 44 for the mothers and 16 for the daughters. The researchers found that if a mother is young at heart, has high fashion consciousness and views her daughter as a style expert, she will tend to doppelgang her daughter’s consumption behavior. Heavens to Betsy. I can no more imagine my mother "doppelganging" (way to verbify a noun, guys) me when I was a teenager than I could imagine her robbing a bank. The thought makes me giggle. My mother was very stylish—she made her living designing dresses for little girls—and favored classic lines, elegant pumps, and discreet gold jewelry. I, on the other hand, passed through fashion phases from hippie chick to disco queen to punk rocker, none of which my mother would ever have dreamed of trying, even on a lark My mother hated the way I ringed my eyes with dark makeup. (“It makes you look tired.”) She was always pushing my hair out of my face. (“You have such a pretty face.”) She thought my disco platforms were Frankenstein shoes. (“Ick.")
It’s roughly 147,000 degrees here in Texas and it’s been that way for the past month, so if you’re looking for deep thoughts, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. My brain is poached. The best I can do is coherent, and sometimes not even that. Mostly I’m thinking about how much I need a vacation. My friend K is in the throes of packing for her vacation in Los Angeles, the hometown she left couple of decades ago and returns to infrequently. She’s looking forward to the trip, but she’s all stressed about packing, and I can relate. When I’m not writing about psychology, I write about travel, and yet I still get in a dither about packing. I am not a casual packer. I start packing days before a trip, and the process includes a lot of putting things into the suitcase and taking them out again, lists and more lists, and at least one run to Target. At least. I recently stumbled on an article in the Annals of Tourism Research that explains packing stress thus: We’re not just traveling. We’re performing as tourists.
It’s been a very long week, and not in a good way. Righteous anger is a bitch. Trying to fit another thought into my overheated brain has been difficult and I've struggled to settle on something to write about. I didn’t want to write more about institutionalized sexism in the media. (Actually I did, but y'all have probably had enough.) Casting around for something to get traction in my brain, I thought about ancillary issues that might be interesting to me, and started searching the database for earnest topics, like “response to moralistic breaches.” And then a paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology popped up and all dark thoughts dissipated. Who cares about anything when there are serious research papers out there saying things like: Embarrassment can arise in a variety of consumer situations, including purchase (e.g., buying personal lubricant or The National Enquirer), usage (e.g., using hemorrhoid medication and watching The View), and disposition situations (e.g., donating Milli Vinilli<cq> records to Goodwill and failing to recycle).
I recently did something highly uncharacteristic for me: I stood in the blazing Texas heat with tens of thousands of people for the parade celebrating the Dallas Mavericks, who had just clinched the first NBA championship in the team’s history. I’m a total bandwagoner. I never watched basketball before and ignored the Mavs until the semifinals. Even then, my interest was desultory at best. I kinda sorta watched the first games of the finals because my husband was watching. But by the end, I was hooked. I could follow the game in a rudimentary way, appreciate the beauty of the perfect shot, and had picked my favorite players. (Dirk Nowitzki is my imaginary boyfriend.) My husband and I had a blast watching the last two games with friends. When the Mavs won, I immediately decided to go to the victory parade, no matter how much of a hassle it was—and it was. Still, it felt great to be among the giddy throng celebrating “our” boys. People were friendly and kind and happy, and when the float with Dirk and Jason Terry passed, everyone went wild. My favorite moment was when Dirk threw an empty plastic water bottle out into the crowd. I think it was just sheer exuberance, and the bottle was all he had to give. And I bet some fan was thrilled to catch it. After it was all over and I was back in my deliciously cool, quiet house, I started wondering: What came over me?