Evolution and consumer behavior

Vladas Griskevicius, Kristina M. Durante

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


Imagine if Charles Darwin walked into a modern shopping mall. How would he react? From the dazzling sights and sounds to the dizzying array of smells and behaviors, Darwin would likely find many of the things he sees quite puzzling. In fact, Darwin was similarly puzzled by many of the strange characteristics and behaviors of the animals he encountered in his travels around the world. Decades of detective work and such observations led Darwin to formulate the theory of natural selection (Darwin, 1859). Darwin's theory became the unifying framework of the life sciences, helping understand the characteristics and behaviors of all living organisms, including humans. Today this interdisciplinary framework is the bridge between the social and the natural sciences, regularly incorporated into modern psychology, anthropology, and other behavioral sciences. So how would Darwin seek to make sense of the behaviors in a twenty-first-century shopping mall? In the same way he sought to understand all living organisms – by starting with a simple question: What adaptive function might these behaviors serve? This question is the starting point for a Darwinian detective – anyone seeking to understand modern behavior in an evolutionarily informed way. The purpose of this chapter is to elucidate what it means to take an evolutionary approach to consumer research. In so doing, we highlight the value of incorporating this approach in consumer research, discuss relevant theories and findings, and offer suggestions for easy ways to incorporate an evolutionary perspective into any area of study. An Evolutionary Approach to Consumer Behavior An evolutionary approach to studying behavior can be summarized in the following way: •All human behavior includes an evolutionary explanation. •Evolutionary explanations concern the adaptive function of behavior. All Behaviors Include an Evolutionary Explanation If you're a social scientist who hasn't been exposed to evolutionary biology, it might seem reasonable to assume that a few human behaviors might be related to evolution, but that many others are probably unrelated to evolution. Unfortunately, this assumption is blatantly false. In reality, all behaviors include an evolutionary explanation. This is because any behavior has multiple explanations at different levels of analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Psychology
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)9781107706552
ISBN (Print)9781107069206
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


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