Are you a virtuous eater?

According to studies published in 2011 a credit card can influence what you buy at the supermarket and the café.

One study, ‘How credit card payments increase unhealthy food purchases’, looked at whether credit cards and cash influenced what people put in their shopping basket at the supermarket. By examining the actual shopping behaviour of 1,000 households over a period of six months, the researchers found that shopping baskets have a larger proportion of food items rated as impulsive and unhealthy when shoppers use credit or debit cards.

They also found that participants spent up to 40 per cent more on what they termed ‘vice’ products (biscuits, cakes, and pies, for example) when they were using credit cards. They also found that the mode of payment didn’t affect the amount spent on ‘virtue’ products (rolled oats, baked beans, wholemeal bread etc).

Mode of payment had a significant effect on participants identified as ‘tightwads’, who were likely to spend 56 per cent more on impulse products when they used a card than when they used cash.

The researchers’ conclusion was that cards weaken impulse control, particularly for those people who normally would be very careful with their money.

One useful insight out of this study is that the day a shopping trip takes place has an effect on the purchase of vice products — people shopping on weekends are less likely to be impulsive. This could be a result of the shopping list effect: weekend shopping trips tend to be based on shopping lists, and therefore ‘purchases on such trips are less susceptible to impulsive urges’.

However, a different study, also published in 2011, found a little wrinkle. The authors of ‘Chocolate cake please! Why do consumers indulge more when it feels more expensive?’ found that when consumers were buying food items for immediate consumption, the greater the pain of payment, the more indulgent foods they chose. One study found that if we buy indulgent food for immediate consumption, the pain of using cash is offset by the excitement and anticipation of eating the delicious, exciting food.

In one of the experiments, the researchers created a cafe afternoon snack menu, and found that people who paid with cash consumed close to 80 more calories than those who used a card. Those who used cash consumed products higher in total fat (three grams or 15 per cent more), salt (130mg or 17 per cent), carbohydrates (eight grams or 13 per cent) and sugar (1.5 grams or six per cent), than those who used a card to pay.

So, the moral to all of these stories: leave your cards (and cash) at home, don’t shop when you feel threatened, and eat more chocolate cake (well, that’s my interpretation of these findings).

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Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth (maybe a few doors down)

Okay, so just to be clear from the outset, while I’m never going to say that there are no differences between the way that men and women behave, think, and see the world in all sorts of contexts, the distinction between whether these differences represent the way that men and women essentially are, as opposed to how we think men and women are, is a really important one. 

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But, what I can tell you is that consistent evidence from research, including meta-analyses on gender differences shows that except for a few key exceptions, men and women are actually more the same than they are different. 

… if we are looking for something, then we are more likely to find it… 

But, like all things in life, if we are looking for something, including differences, then we are more likely to find them. 

Think of it this way… even when women and men do or think the same thing, or have similar ambitions, the way that we expect them to be will still influence how we see them. In other words, gender stereotypes, and how we expect genders to behave and think, are likely to lead people to see and treat men and women differently, even if they’re doing or thinking the same thing as each other. 

Or to put it another way, your maleness or femaleness is one of the first social categories we learn to apply – even before you are born, your gender is imposed on you, perhaps unconsciously. When someone asks an expectant parent what she or he is hoping for… most people will say a boy or a girl, not a human baby or some other dichotomous category like blue or green eyes. 

Even things like gender reveal parties, which happen before the kid is born for goodness sake, reinforce our need to separate the boys from the girls. 

…your maleness or femaleness is one of the first social categories we learn to apply – even before you are born, your gender is imposed on you

And no matter how hard some parents might want to bring up their kids in a gender neutral way, it’s virtually impossible. From the moment that you’re conceived, the social world around you happily sorts pretty much your whole life into the binary, even if you don’t it to. 

So many unconscious, unnoticeable factors go into the brain-building cycle of children (and adults); things like social norms, the modelling of parent behaviour, friends, media and social interactions. Conscious or unconscious imprinting of different expectations around things like self-confidence and risk-taking, drives boys and girls down different trajectories, in relation to socialisation, career and success.

And people who argue that biology or evolution prove the differences between males and females… so things like the physical strength of men (on average) or different levels of testosterone or oxytocin in men and women are actually wrong, because it doesn’t really reflect our current knowledge. 

Actual research, rather than, say dodgy books trying to reinforce your current beliefs and sell lots of copies, suggests that the division of gender roles in hunter gatherer societies is much more egalitarian than most people often assume, and that the evidence in relation to specific hormones and their effect on behaviour is not as definitive as we might think. 

So, for example, while testosterone tends to be a precursor of aggressive behaviour, it can also influence prosocial behaviour and care. Another example often used to demonstrate these immutable biological differences is in relation to the social bonding hormone, oxytocin. Which is often attributed to women’s role as carers, when in fact, research shows that men and women show equal levels of increases in the hormone six months after the birth of their first child.

There’s also no evidence that mens and women’s brains are wired differently, which seems to come up a lot in popular reporting. One “brain wired differently” argument goes that women are not really less intelligent than men, just ‘different’ in how they think and work… funnily enough in a way that reinforces the status quo of gender roles. So, the argument goes, that women’s brains are wired for empathy and intuition, whereas male brains are best at reason and action. 

But, again, there is just no evidence to support this. Things like language-processing is not spread any more evenly across women’s hemispheres than it is in men’s. And that oldie, but a baddie, that men’s brains are bigger than women’s is also not particularly well supported. Research shows that brain size increases with body size, and there are little to no differences observed when we compare small-headed men to large-headed women, and even if there is a small difference, it has no relationship to somebody’s hobbies, desire to go shopping, or take-home pay.

Research also shows that men and women’s cognitive performance in areas like maths, personality or social behaviours, and psychological wellbeing, is more similar than different and success in any of these fields is more likely to be an outcome of external forces, like conditioning, reward, power imbalance, social modelling and reinforcement. 

But the most important thing that comes up most often in nearly all of these studies is that men and women show more significant differences among individuals, whether male or female, than between males and females as collective group.

What’s happening is that we’re so tuned in to looking for differences between men and women, we don’t notice the similarities. And the fact that we have established different societal roles and assumed positions of power for men and women has meant that we are likely to emphasise and enlarge any real differences. 

In other words, we tend to find what we’re looking for. 

Like I said at the beginning of this fairly long piece, of course there are differences between men and women, but sometimes our focus on this single attribute as a means of discrimination is just not useful. Humans are complex and nuanced and to think that 51 percent of the population would all think, behave and be the same is ridiculous. 

Yet we persist with a simplistic notion of the exclusive differences between two groups. 

And because of this, these two groups are forced to conform to these simple distinctions with the loss of the complexity of difference.

*This article was highly influenced by Janet Shibley Hyde’s “Gender Similarities and Differences”, Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2014. 65:373–98. I would suggest you read this if you want to understand more about this issue.

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You are not in control

When people say the SARS-CoV2 virus is “clever” or “a master of deception”, a “hit and run killer” or even “highly unpredictable”, they make it sound like it has agency, intention and instrumentality.

But, it doesn’t have a plan. It doesn’t know what it’s doing. It doesn’t think. Its existence is not the product of directed, intentional fate.

It exists as a consequence of a series of random unfortunate events, that are controlled by natural, universal laws—laws that apply everywhere and to everything, with no special exemptions or amplifications for humans—given variety by the input of chance.

The virus isn’t clever. It doesn’t think.

It’s hard as humans (with our massive prefrontal cortex that seems to be able to explain everything back to us) to come to terms with the idea that most things in the universe (including our lives) aren’t planned. We’d like to think that we can control stuff, but even our existence is a consequence of the same natural laws.

We tend to put ourselves at the centre of everything. But we aren’t special. We are also an accident. What makes us us is as simple as a shuffle of genetic attributes during meiosis , a few random mutations, and the luck of the draw in the grand sperm race at fertilization.

Not sure where I’m going with this… I think I am just tired of people talking about the virus and thinking that they are in control or the virus is in control.

Like everything in life, we are making it up as we go along.

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It’s a conspiracy… or did I?

One in eight Australianstransmedia-baby-232x300 believe Microsoft founder Bill Gates is somehow responsible for the coronavirus and the 5G wireless network is to blame for spreading the disease. 

And the same number of people believe the pandemic is being used to force us into getting vaccinations.

Seven in every ten Americans believe that there was a second gunman, and one in three believe that there is a deep state working against Donald Trump. 

Whether it’s coronavirus, the second gunman in the assassination of John F Kennedy, the faked moon landing or the myth of climate change, conspiracy theories are everywhere. 

And while there is no doubt that we should be sceptical of systems, of institutions, even of people’s motives, it is also important to be rigorous in how we assess particular claims. 

So, why do people believe in conspiracies?

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Returning to the world – Post COVID-19

several people at a party

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I have been doing a lot of media about how we are going to adjust to the world, Post-COVID-19. Here is a summary of the questions that I responded to.

Last week saw the release of a study by Vox Pops Labs and the ABC that suggested that as coronavirus restrictions are eased or lifted, only about one in eight Australians would attend a large event even if they could, fewer than one in five would get on a plane, and only 40 per cent would go to a bar or restaurant.

Is this the response you’d expect from Australians?

Very much so. In a period of six months, Australians have been overwhelmed with crises; we had an unprecedented bushfire season over summer, our cities were enveloped in smoke for weeks, and we’re now experiencing an illness that for most of us is a mystery; even the World Health Organisation referred to it as “uncharted territory”. We are grappling with so many unknowns, our natural reaction is to be cautious.

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We live in extraordinary times

As we are regularly being told at the moment, we live in extraordinary times.

After an unprecedented bushfire season – followed by our most populated cities being enveloped in smoke – we are now experiencing a health crisis that the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) referred to as “uncharted territory” as they combat the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) throughout the world.

It’s not surprising then that many of us in Australia and in developed countries are feeling that the things that we have taken for granted – effective health systems, security and safety and our feeling of being sheltered from outside forces – are crumbling around us.

You could say we are facing, literally, an existential crisis.

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so go and buy me something!

Sea_otters_holding_handsToday is Valentine’s Day, and it seems that the marketing of the day, and of many occasions throughout the year, has stepped up substantially over the past couple of years. Many believe that Valentine’s Day (or VD for short), is now simply feeding our consumerist culture. But there is probably more to it than simply marketing gone mad – although marketers are pretty good at tapping into our very human vulnerabilities.

The need to love, to be loved and to belong is central to our idea of happiness. Being in love, and loving someone, is bound up with perception, imagination and a desired reality.

Much marketing is based on exploiting both our imagination and our desired reality.

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It’s Valentines Day, babe… what are you buying me?

adult aged bouquet buildings

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Valentine’s Day is coming, and for many, it seems that the marketing of this particular day and of many occasions throughout the year – such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas – has stepped up a gear over the past couple of years. Many believe that these events are simply feeding our consumerist culture, and to some degree they are right.

In its own way, Valentines Day is a prime example of segmentation and targeting, where marketers develop a marketing mix to suit the key target markets. Segments work best when the consumer opts in and actually buys the product, rather than when it is a constructed demographic that is targeted by marketers. In my MBA classes, I regularly remind students that marketers don’t choose segments; the customer chooses to be in a segment through their behaviour. And this is all that is happening on Valentines Day.

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Why we make and break New Year’s resolutions

sport fitness workout resolution

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It’s an arbitrary date of a calendar developed by mathematicians and introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, but on 1 January each year, many of us like to think about how we might change one (or some) of our less appealing habits.

We could instead have picked 1 September, which was the start of the Byzantine year, or 25 March, which was the start of the legal year in England from the 12th century until 1751.

But humans love a ritual, and the start of the Gregorian year seems like a perfectly sensible time to try something different.

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The psychology of online shopping: Are you a slave to the technology?

Quick answer… more than likely, although you would never admit it.

selective focus photography of woman holding black cased smartphone near assorted clothes

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Online shopping has revolutionised the way we buy so many day-to-day items. The online world has so infiltrated the way we shop, that for the most part, we simply don’t realise how ubiquitous it is.

Whether it’s jumping on to the Myer website for the Black Friday sales, buying a digital subscription on Spotify, catching an Uber, downloading a movie from Google Play, choosing your seats for the theatre and then collecting your tickets at the box office, ordering and then getting your pizza or burger delivered by Deliveroo, or buying our coffee beans from our favourite Single Origin provider, nearly all of us at some point are using the online environment to buy a good or a service. Australia is currently the 10th largest e-commerce market in the world by revenue. E-commerce in Australia will continue to grow. The market size is estimated to be A$35.2 billion (US$ 25.2 billion) by 2021, but this probably only represents the tip of the online iceberg.

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