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Consumption on the Brain

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Science, Environment, psychology, brain science, the Ecologist, PsyBlog,

Supermarket ConsumptionModern society actively bombards the human consciousness, allowing the most primitive and consumption-oriented parts of the brain to take over, John Naish writes for the Ecologist. People are tricked on a base level into “feeling beset by famine and poverty, despite the abundant sufficiencies around us.” These feelings of need push people into buying, eating, and using resources, often without thinking rationally. 

Beyond foods and cars, the human brain is wired for conceptual consumption, too. The quest for more experiences can lead people into choosing more unique or interesting experiences over more pleasurable ones, according to PsyBlog. When faced with a choice between a consistently pleasurable ice cream flavor (say, chocolate) or a more interesting but clearly less tasty one (say, bacon), many people will choose the bacon-flavored ice cream, knowing it won’t be as good. A similar theory is employed to explain why people prefer horror movies over a good comedy.

The problem is that marketers and advertisers know how to stimulate the primitive parts of the human brain to prod people into more consumption. That drive is having a devastating effect on the environment, according to Naish, as people irresponsibly consume natural resources in a Sisyphean effort to quiet the irrational parts of the brain.

There are, however, plenty of exercises that people can use to stimulate the higher-functioning, more rational  parts of the brain. Naish suggests that society tap into the psychological need for social belonging to nudge people toward more responsible consumption. Some solutions are far more simple than that, too. Naish cites research showing that “pausing between deciding to buy something and taking it to the check-out dramatically increases the chance of a no-sale.” Simply taking a breath or walking around the block before making a purchase can help bypass the more irrational part of the brain and encourage more responsible and conscious consumption.

Image by Simon Shek, licensed under Creative Commons.

SourceThe EcologistPsyBlog