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Psychology and Consumer Culture

"Psychology and Consumer Culture" is a collection of essays edited by Tim Kasser and Allen D. Kanner. Kasser is the author of "The High Price of Materialism", a book I highly recommend reading. The essays in this book cover four main areas: i) Problems of Materialism, Capitalism, and Consumption ii) Theoretical Perspectives iii) Clinical Issues and iv) The Influence of Commercialism on Child Development. Unlike most readings of non-fiction books like this one, I didn't take many notes. Part of the reason was I read this during my trip to Nepal and it wasn't always handy to have a notebook around to capture my thoughts. The primary reason though was that most of the essays in the book are dense and to really appreciate all of the material presented in the book, I want to give them all a second reading.

The editors purposely didn't offer a summarized conclusion about the various essays to ensure that anyone considering pursuing further research on the topic wasn't influenced by what they thought the next big thing should be. While I didn't even begin digest all of the content one of the main themes was that a lot of the research by psychologists in this field is hidden from public view. Marketing and advertising research by companies frequently involves psychologists to study the impact on specific segments of the population (such as young children). This research is done at the behest of a company and as such the results are considered trade secrets and will never see the light of day. The findings are used to create better ads but not to help those afflicted with illnesses or quality of life issues related to consumerism.

The various essay authors come from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of focus. By approaching the the topic from so many different angles a wide and disturbing picture is painted. Many of the core findings were reflected in Kasser's other book but are examined in much greater detail in this book. With another read through the essays I'll have more points to talk about but in the meantime there was one quote I found that captured some of the central themes: "The story that advertising tells is that the way to be happy, to find satisfaction, and to be free politically is through the consumption of materials objects." [252].

Tags: books consumerism


A great article from the NYTimes about how advertising techniques can be used to help influence public awareness about a health issue: Warning: Habits May Be Good for You.