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Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,159 ratings  ·  137 reviews
A leading evolutionary psychologist probes the hidden instincts behind our working, shopping, and spending

Evolutionary psychology-the compelling science of human nature-has clarified the prehistoric origins of human behavior and influenced many fields ranging from economics to personal relationships. In Spent Geoffrey Miller applies this revolutionary science's principles
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 14th 2009 by Viking Adult (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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 ·  1,159 ratings  ·  137 reviews

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Xing Chen
Feb 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Miller pulls together an acutely relevant array of information from a range of fields (e.g. psychology, primate evolution, economics, marketing), distilling concepts to their essence in elegant prose in support of his arguments.

My favourite section: a description of correlations between risk of exposure to parasites from outgroups, vulnerability of the immune system, and tendency to be more or less open to contact with unfamiliar people and cultures.

Some points that pop out in his writing:
He r
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Conspicuous consumerism is neither natural nor inevitable, but just one possible mode of human trait display."

This was a great, multidisciplinary critique of modern consumerism.

Miller analyzes and criticizes our tendency to display our personality traits through consumption, rather than through face-to-face interaction. He argues that our efforts to impress others through education, work, and bling are often misguided, because as social animals we can quickly spot where these signals are redun
Jay Kamaladasa
Jun 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
When you give a man a screwdriver, he thinks that all the world's problems can be fixed by screwing around. That's essentially what's happened to Geoffrey Miller.

Don't get me wrong. This is an excellent book, for the first half. It covers fitness indicators and how we're using consumerism as a modern way to express them. It covers psychology's current obsession with personality traits and how they fit neatly with our consumer behaviour. So far so good - I mean how rarely does scientific models
Judy Frabotta
Dec 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Haven't finished this yet, but I love it. One of those books that when you're reading it, "explains everything." In this case, status seeking consumerism.
Take two: OK, I should have waited before reviewing. It's definitely an entertaining book that will hold your interest, but it gets more than a bit nutty as it progresses. I strongly agree with the central thesis: there are more effective was to signal our fitness (intelligence, agreeableness, conscientiousness, etc.) than by consuming mass pr
Aaron Arnold
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book hooked me from its name alone: not only is the pun on its subtitle of Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior exactly my sense of humor, those subjects are right up my alley. Miller's thesis is that much of modern conspicuous consumption is a waste, and not just in the environmental sense. In his view, much of what we buy as signaling and trait display devices are also a waste in evolutionary terms, because human beings are already extremely good at figuring out who they want to have sex ...more
Jurij Fedorov
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Weird book with great new ideas in it.

The concept of "Central Six" is crucial to learn for any individual. Especially people who work closely with human beings and need to understand talent and behaviour. Intelligence and the Big Five personality traits is the alpha-omega in psychology and the basis for all scientific psychology. Miller does explain how these things are the things you have to look at to understand consumer behaviour, and he is correct. Personality and intelligence can predic
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
*Time well-spent *

_Spent_ offers a valuable opportunity to escape from consumerism craziness and get back in touch with our evolutionary roots. Geoffrey Miller does an amazing job in showing how consumer capitalism preys on our evolutionary drives for displaying fitness indicators and chasing fitness cues, but it ultimately results in our flaunting traits that are often redundant, misleading, useless, or counterproductive. Under the spell of runaway consumerism, we get distracted from the truth
Jun 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
White cover with clever photo, single word title, copycat publishing. A frustrating combination of screed (deriding conspicuous consumption), analysis (we advertise our biological selves by buying what we buy), and business journalism (summarizing current marketing trends). Some chapters are well reasoned and organized, and at least one (Chapter 9) is quite entertaining. Geoffrey Miller writes well when he's on, and clearly knows the field of evolutionary biology. Overall, however, one gets the ...more
Dec 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: en, z-lib, non-fiction
There are a few aspects of the book which I found annoying: it is verbose, the author talks about himself far too often, he is not always fair to those who hold opinions different from his (although his mean jokes are funny most times). But in the end these downsides are not so important. Miller made his point and quite convincingly, too. As a result, I feel that I now know more about marketing and why it works. For example, all those glamorous Gucci/DG/Versace ads with contemptuous models lying ...more
Austin Tunnell
Jan 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
An incredibly thought provoking book. Written by an evolutionary psychologist, it is also highly controversial. Whether left-wing, write-wing, God-denying or God-fearing, you will find some parts, if not the whole thing, offensive (perhaps even both liberals and conservatives). Yet, I highly recommend it as its evolutionary perspective on consumerism is probably vastly different than anything you have ever read or heard.

The basic idea is that runaway consumerism is simply a recent
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love this book - he has a bunch of great ideas and ties them all together well - a bit dry in parts, but stick with it and it's worth it at the end when he finishes with his thoughts on a consumption tax. LOVE IT! ...more
Dave McClure
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
fascinating take on behavioral psychology, marketing, evolution, sexuality/procreation, how and why we buy things, and how theory of sexual selection factors into our thinking. (also see previous book "The Mating Mind" for much of the theory behind this lab work...) ...more
Nicholas Karpuk
Sep 15, 2011 rated it liked it
So apparently in the broad scheme of things most of what we're doing works towards getting laid.

Or at least provides the deep-seeded reason for it. I doubt most presidents, on their high-level thinking, do so in pursuit of getting a whole lot of ladies.

Geoffrey Miller's book makes plenty of interesting arguments from the evolutionary psychologist standpoint about how the human drive to display our traits gets filtered far too readily through conspicuous consumption. He makes plenty of interestin
Mar 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in the fuzzy area between psychology, marketing and consumerism
I originally picked this up because I was going through a kick of reading books about different aspects sexuality - this book, however, is more about evolutionary psychology and consumerism (and to a lesser extent, marketing), than it is about sexuality.

Despite this, I kept reading it, because the author does have some interesting ideas, even if they're presented in a style I found myself needing to take in fairly small doses at a single reading session.

Basically, the field of Evolutionary Psych
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A truly astonishing book. Miller dives deep into our collective unconscious trigger mechanisms, our seemingly odd (human) behavioural quirks, to surface with a novel concept of interpreting what drives the present (not just American) consumer culture.
Importantly, he does so with empathy, humour, and irony - making this an entertaining as well as rewarding read. More importantly, where many books of this genre fall down (never mind their lack of deep or novel well researched insights) - while us
Gaetan T. Giannini
Feb 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Family, Friends, and Sex
If South Park had an evolutionary psychologist as a character it would be Geoffrey Miller, professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior. Miller uses his irreverent writing style to explain global consumer culture through the application of the science of human nature. This is a particularly good book for marketers as it uses up-to-date science to explain why we, as humans, buy, and why we are often trapped by the al
Daniel R.
Aug 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
The author blends personal observation, conjecture, and actual research into a rambling narrative about consumerism. Between taking pot shots at other research and offering little evidence of why his perspective is preferred it was hard to appreciate many of the points trying to be made. The last fews chapters offer a more expansive view of how society might change its behavior, compared to other books about consumerism that I've read, but I found the material out of place and instead wished for ...more
May 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I am very interested in consumer behavior and human behavior in general, and this book detailed how and why we do things the way we do. I thought it was fascinating and learned a lot from his real life examples. I am actually going to read through the book again and take a few notes about things that really got my attention.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in human behavior and/or perspectives on life, living and culture.
May 12, 2011 rated it liked it

I loathed the author more than I thought possible - unabashedly pretentious and arrogant - BUT, thought a lot of his ideas were interesting. I'm with him on reducing consumption, and the six personality traits he outlined keep coming up mentally as I interact with different people ("Oh, she's high openness" or "Asshole! Low agreeability!").

I'm miffed I didn't finish BEFORE book club; I would've had a lot more to say.
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
A few good and interesting ideas lost in a murky sea of mediocre science writing.
Mark Mulvey
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone, not just marketers. It’s grounded in the Big Five personality traits (+ a sixth) and assesses consumer culture and human nature through the lens of costly signaling and mating drive. Insights are all over the place, I got tired of highlighting. Chapter 15 is essentially an “Advertising Antidote” and could even save you some $...

You can probably skip the last chapter (Ch. 17) which deals with a proposed shift from income to consumption tax.


Pg 21: “A deeper understanding
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good start for evolutionary consumerism. I had heard of ‘peacocking’ but Miller goes much deeper on this idea and others. He also provides four chapters of detailed analysis of how certain traits are displayed.
This book felt 20% too long, a thinned out version would be nice but good ideas are throughout. This was suggested by Tyler Cowen and Rory Sutherland.
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
A favorite among the books I've read in the last 2-3 years. Highly highly recommended.

My quoted passages from reading the book:

* On life now and then:

* "Consider the average Cro-Magnon a 30000 years ago. She's a healthy 30 year old Mother 3, living in a close-knit clan of family and friends. She works only 20 hours a week at an organic fruits and vegetables and flirting with guys who will give her free-range meat. She spends most of her gag gossiping with friends, breastfeeding her name is b
Richard Wu
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Geoffrey Miller knows what drives human behavior and he’s tired of your shit.

In this book he lays it out on the false reductionism of popular business / marketing / social psychology books while singing a paean to a more truthful biodeterminist reductionism based on the time-tested Big Five model of personality. The central thesis is that rampant consumerism is a byproduct of societal-level mismanagement of our finely-tuned evolutionary impulses. We’ve outsmarted ourselves.

For various reasons,
Angelo Karageorgos
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One more excellent book from the author of "The Mating Mind"

Dr. Miller introduces the modern findings of Evolutionary Psychology to marketing and offers valuable insights to marketers.

Humans are wired to have narcisistic behaviors. That is to display indicators of their fitness (fertility, social status, health etc.) so that they can attract better mates and create useful social connections.

Modern marketing with the use of our natural narcisism has confused people, making them believe that acqu
Joe Robles
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it
I liked the insights from Evolutionary Psychology that Miller uses to show us our consumer behavior and why that behavior exists. He is a bit too anti-consumerist though and sometimes his message gets lost because of it. Though I do have to agree that we don't really need most of the the things we buy. I like my flat-screen TV, but did I really NEED it. No, my old 27" tube television was fine, worked great. I just like my 36" flat panel, or do I? The premise of the book is that most of our consu ...more
Alex MacMillan
Mar 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
You are not what you buy. But what you buy does signal to others what you aspire to be. But what you are has been obvious to all, all along.

These three sentences summarizing Spent, when internalized, will transform your life's priorities and direction. Consumerism, the belief that buying stuff best bring happiness and meaning, is the overarching ideology of our time. We all are caught up in its pull on our resources and attention, but lack full awareness of consumerism's influence because the un
Mar 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great personality test:

Measuring your big five (openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and extraversion)

Use the following scale to answer each question below:
1 = disagree strongly
2 = disagree a little
3 = neither agree nor disagree
4 = agree a little
5 = agree strongly

Openness (subtract the score for the second statement from the score for the first statement):
I see myself as someone who has an active imagination.
I see myself as someone who has few artistic interests.

Feb 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
How evolutionary psychology applies to marketing

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller examines modern consumer culture through a scientific lens. The result is thought-provoking, useful and often witty, but a bit uneven. Miller does of fine job of explaining evolutionary psychology and, especially, of showing how the endless purchases that define “consumerist capitalism” come from an unacknowledged need to demonstrate physical characteristics or personality traits to others. This section of
Jan 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A fun look at modern consumer culture through the eyes of an evolutionary psychologist, Spent explores how hardwired status seeking and the Big 5 personality traits – openness, conscientiousness,agreeableness, stability & extroversion – as well as general intelligence influence consumer behavior.

From the social psychology of consumer narcissism to conspicuous consumption as fitness signaling, Geoffrey Miller analyzes how the goods and services we buy unconsciously advertise our biological poten
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