Got boys on the brain? Can’t get that one special girl out of your head? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. According to a recent study by University of New Mexico Professor Geoffrey Miller, human evolution can be almost entirely attributed to our desire to attract potential sexual partners. In the study, Miller took two groups of people (one “romantically primed,” the other neutral), and asked them to detail how they would spend $5,000 and 60 hours of time. Interestingly, men in the romantically primed group spent their imaginary money on showy status symbols, while the romantically primed women focused on spending their 60 hours volunteering in public avenues and doing other noticeably “good” works. The neutral group, on the other hand, spent both their time and money more privately. The conclusion: in order to attract romantic partners, the men spent money (attempting to increase their perceived power level) while the women spent other resources (in an attempt to appear as benevolent and giving as possible).
No real surprises here. People are not so different from peacocks after all, and in today’s status-conscious world visible spending (whether time or material) is key. Despite making sense in the abstract, many of the gender-specific inferences of this article are distressing. Are we supposed to come away thinking that sex sells, but only men buy? That women are searching primarily for financial support while men seek self-sacrificing mates? That view of consumerism and gender is bleak, and serves to reinforce stereotypes that both genders have expended considerable effort trying to break.
Putting aside the terrifying social implications, non-profit marketers in particular have a lot to glean from this study. There is now scientific evidence that people want to be seen doing good. They want to be seen acting good, sounding good, and looking good. Goodness is a market of its own, particularly high-profile goodness. Men and women’s subconscious (sometimes also self-conscious, self-destructive, or just plain humiliating) desire to appeal to their desired partners makes them eager to spend money for a good cause. This doesn’t mean that you have to run out and sell useless status symbols in the name of ending world hunger, but it does mean that it can’t hurt your non-profit to invest in a few high-profile products or events to attract twitterpated buyers looking for a shiny new peacock feather.