Ah…The Gathering Instinct

As many of us learned from a PBS documentary, humans were “hunter-gatherers” in the days agriculture developed. Since this “hunting and gathering” has gone on for much longer than agriculture, many anthropologists and biologists have speculated on what impact this has had on humanity as a species.
Normally though, I hear more references to the “hunting” instinct and its impact on our species. Topics have included the thrill of “the chase”, cooperation within the hunting band and speculations on the thrill of the “kill” (not to mention the thrill of the grill). Those who believe that some of the weirder aspects of human behavior can be explained by evolution tend to believe that many humans still have a “hunting” instinct of some sort.
Rarely however, do I hear discussions of the “gathering” instinct (at least not so much in popular science). Yet “gathering” is probably the more productive of our food gathering strategies – although hunting does give you the higher value “protein”.
So in one of those odd caffeinated moments in the car, I asked myself …do we still “gather” as well as “hunt”? And then it hit me – we shop!
More importantly, we often shop even if we don’t need to. After all, do the Gossip Girls really need another pair of shoes? Do I really need to buy another novel when I have a stack on my bed table? Of course not. And gadget gurus – if you’ve been able to cope without the iPhone did you really need to be in line at 4 AM on the first sale day? Just asking….
It’s not just in modern Western culture either that shops. Archaeology is full of evidence for cultures going to great lengths to obtain the right gemstones, the best dyes and even the best flint for your flint tool set (those things work!) And there has always been a luxury food market. They don’t call chocolate the “food of the gods” for nothing.
So is anyone investigating this all-important human activity? Yes actually, and some very interesting regults can be found at Design of Desire. Marketers have always been interested in exploiting the shopping instinct, but it’s also good that there’s some neuro and cognitive science behind this too. As much as we may not want to admit, our desire to gather and hoard really does drive a lot of our economic behavior.
(OK – That was such a good site – I had to share it with you!)

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