Why is a seemingly quintessential English author such as Jane Austen so popular in South Korea? What makes one movie an international box-office success while another is a huge flop? And why is the waist-to-hip ratio of games character Lara Croft so crucial to global sales?
Those of us who study evolutionary consumer psychology have long known that the answer to questions such as these lies in neo-Darwinism. Quite simply, the things we desire, purchase and consume are a result of our brain’s unique evolutionary heritage, and that includes cultural products such as music, literature and art. There is a vast body of research exploring the evolutionary themes inherent in a broad range of modern cultural phenomena, an interpretive exercise that really owes its origins more to Carl Jung and the early psychoanalysts.
Much of this literature is quite complex, though always fascinating, so it is hard to always think of an easy entry-point for the neo-Darwinian newbie. This recent post by evolutionary psychologist Doug Kenrick, however, is a nice route into the subject, applying Kenrick’s own interesting re-imagining of Maslow’s (in-)famous pyramid of needs to an analysis of Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, the New York Times best-selling novel of 2019.
Owens’ novel – in the proud tradition of Austen, Conan Doyle and Stoker – is riddled with story elements of huge significance to the Darwinian imperative to survive, reproduce and pass on our genes to the next generation. Elements which also fit neatly onto levels of Kenrick’s own funky new pyramid too, it seems. A brief-but-clever introduction to a complex subject, as well as to the whole fundamental motivations topic itself.