Using the Internet to Study Human Universals

Using the Internet to Study Human Universals

Gad Saad (Concordia University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-611-7.ch071
OnDemand PDF Download:
$37.50

Abstract

Many human preferences, choices, emotions, and actions occur in universally similar manners because they are rooted in our common biological heritage. As such, irrespective of whether individuals are Peruvian, French, or Togolese, they are likely to share commonalities as a result of their shared Darwinian histories. In the current article, I provide a brief overview of how the Internet is a powerful tool for investigating such human universals. Given my work at the nexus of evolutionary theory and consumption, I begin with an example from marketing. Few marketing scholars are versed in evolutionary theory and related biological formalisms (Saad, 2007a; Saad, 2008a). As such, they generally view the environment as the key driver in shaping consumption patterns. This is part and parcel of the blank slate view of the human mind (Pinker, 2002), which purports that humans are born with empty minds that are subsequently filled via a wide range of socialization forces (e.g., parents, advertising content, or movies). Given that marketing scholars rely heavily on the expansive shoulders of socialization in explaining consumption, they are strong proponents of cultural relativism namely the notion that cultures need to be investigated from an emic perspective. Hence, marketers spend much of their efforts cataloging endless crosscultural differences, seldom recognizing that there are numerous commonalities shared by consumers around the world.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction & Background

Many human preferences, choices, emotions, and actions occur in universally similar manners because they are rooted in our common biological heritage. As such, irrespective of whether individuals are Peruvian, French, or Togolese, they are likely to share commonalities as a result of their shared Darwinian histories. In the current article, I provide a brief overview of how the Internet is a powerful tool for investigating such human universals. Given my work at the nexus of evolutionary theory and consumption, I begin with an example from marketing.

Few marketing scholars are versed in evolutionary theory and related biological formalisms (Saad, 2007a; Saad, 2008a). As such, they generally view the environment as the key driver in shaping consumption patterns. This is part and parcel of the blank slate view of the human mind (Pinker, 2002), which purports that humans are born with empty minds that are subsequently filled via a wide range of socialization forces (e.g., parents, advertising content, or movies). Given that marketing scholars rely heavily on the expansive shoulders of socialization in explaining consumption, they are strong proponents of cultural relativism namely the notion that cultures need to be investigated from an emic perspective. Hence, marketers spend much of their efforts cataloging endless cross-cultural differences, seldom recognizing that there are numerous commonalities shared by consumers around the world.

A long-standing and yet to be resolved debate in international marketing is whether it is best to standardize one’s advertising message across cultural settings or tailor-make it to each local culture (Agrawal, 1995; Theodosiou & Leonidou, 2003). Saad (2007a, chapter 4) proposed that the key reason that this matter has yet to be satisfactorily resolved is that marketers have not used the appropriate meta-framework for deciding which phenomena are culture-specific versus those that are human universals. Evolutionary psychology is exactly such a framework as it permits scholars to catalog marketing phenomena into three distinct categories (see Saad, 2007b, for additional details): (1) Emic-based consumption patterns that are outside the purview of evolutionary psychology as they are rooted in historical and cultural specificity. For example, that the French consume more wine than Saudis (religious edict against drinking alcohol) has nothing to do with evolutionary theory; (2) Cross-cultural differences that are rooted in adaptive processes. For example, some culinary traditions utilize a greater amount of spices than others, as a means of protecting against food-borne pathogens. It turns out that a country’s latitude (which correlates with its ambient temperature) is a predictor of the extent to which spices will be used (Sherman & Billing, 1999), and this effect is greater for meat dishes as compared to vegetable dishes, since the former are more likely to contain food pathogens (Sherman & Hash, 2001). In other words, these culinary cross-cultural differences are adaptations to local environments; and (3) Human universals that are manifestations of the common biological heritage that are shared by all humans. Examples here include the universal recognition that facially symmetric individuals are beautiful, and the universal penchant for highly caloric foods.

Given its global reach, the Internet affords scholars with the capacity to explore a wide range of evolutionary-based human universals, a topic that I address in the remainder of this article. Incidentally, not only can the Internet be used to study human universals but also the Internet’s own evolution can be modeled as a Darwinian process (Dovrolis, 2008).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Blank Slate/Tabula Rasa: The premise that humans are born with empty minds that are subsequently filled by a wide range of socialization forces. This has been the central dogma of the great majority of social scientists, many of whom are referred to as social constructivists.

Human Universal: A phenomenon that is found in the same form irrespective of cultural setting and/or time period. Such universals are typically construed as rooted in a common biological and evolutionary-based heritage.

Evolutionary Behavioral Science: The application of Darwinian approaches to study behavioral phenomena. Hence, behavioral ecology, Darwinian anthropology, and evolutionary psychology are sub-disciplines within the greater field of Evolutionary Behavioral Science.

Global versus Local Advertising: The strategic decision to either create one advertising copy that is transportable to all cultural settings (global) or tailor-make the message and associated semiotics to be in line with idiosyncratic cultural differences (local).

Cultural Relativism: The tenet that all cultures are inherently different from one another and hence must be evaluated using their own idiosyncratic contexts. In this sense, it is antithetical to the existence of human universals.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio: A morphological metric that is used by both men and women in evaluating the phenotypic quality of prospective mates.

Fossils of the Human Mind: Since the human mind does not fossilize, scientists can investigate cultural products across a wide range of cultural and temporal settings, as a means of understanding the evolution of the human mind.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset