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Shopping Brings Out Our Inner Hunter/Gatherer

When shopping, women gather and men hunt.

As the 2010 end of year shopping frenzy grinds to its end, it's a good time to talk about differences in the ways men and women shop. We've all seen the stereotypical behaviors - men who move directly to and from the location of the item that they need to purchase and women drifting through the aisles looking for the right gift. Kruger and Byker have studied these actions and link them to traditional behaviors among hunter/gathers. Although their conclusions are related to shopping, you may find the lessons learned handy as you think more generally about how spaces get used.

After surveying men and women, Kruger and Byker conclude that "We believe, and study findings support this belief, that modern shopping behaviors are an adaptation of our species' ancestral hunting and gathering skills. . . . .Women . . . . scored higher on skills and behaviors associated with gathering, even through the environment and the objects being gathered have changed with respect to our ancestral environment. . . . . Men scored higher on skills and behaviors associated with hunting. Thus even though the prey is now an expensive home theatre system, men are still applying the skills that were developed to obtain meat in a hunter-gatherer environment."

Gatherers need to be able to assess if a fruit or vegetable is ripe, which explains why women are more sensitive to variations in reds, pinks, and yellows than men, for example. Smells and textures also can indicate ripeness. There is a certain amount of browsing involved in gathering as patches of fruits and vegetables are visited to determine their ripeness. Tracking prey is important for hunting - new socks move around a lot less than a gazelle, however. Fresh killed meat is not something to dally around with, it starts to spoil quickly.

So while humans will change as the race accumulates more experiences, that evolutionary process is slow. For now, mixed-sex couples shopping together need to be patient with each other. Men and women will change, eventually.

Daniel Kruger and Dreyson Byker. 2009. "Evolved Foraging Psychology Underlies Sex Differences in Shopping Experiences and Behaviors." Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 315-327.

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