Sex Drives Spending

Your Mind, Your Money

Sex Drives Spending

Don't let tricky marketing ploys influence your financial decisions and get you to spend more.

There’s a good reason casinos hire attractive women as waitresses, says Gad Saad, professor of marketing at Concordia University. It turns out -- surprise --that men respond in highly predictable ways when influenced by thoughts of sex. Populate a casino with the right servers, and men are likely to act in ways that penalize their own wallets and boost the house’s profits.

SEE ALSO: Our Special Report on Investor Psychology

Saad, who studies how evolution has influenced human behavior, says that aroused men “engage in greater discounting.” That’s psych talk for short-term thinking. Men are also willing to take greater risks and exhibit what Saad calls “peacock behavior.”

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Our Inner Peacock

In the avian world, the peacock with the biggest, most colorful tail gets to mate. Flashing a wad of cash or sitting behind a big stack of chips is a way for the male of our species to show off his feathers. So a comely waitress brings out a man’s short-term-thinking, risk-taking inner peacock, which plays right into the casino’s bottom line as the customer makes big, wanton bets.


Saad, author of The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal about Human Nature (Prometheus Books, $25), specializes in how evolution affects consumption. His goal is to explain how you behave when you buy things, and his insights can make you a better consumer.

Saad says that indulging in boy toys can actually change a man’s chemistry. An experiment he conducted showed a rise in testosterone levels among men driving powerful and expensive sports cars. But men driving ordinary sedans showed no hormonal changes. (Factor that in before you buy a Porsche.)

Saad’s simple prescription: Don’t make financial decisions based on images that are still tugging on your emotions. But, he adds, although certain stimuli can have a powerful influence on behavior, “nothing is predetermined.” You can help overcome ingrained impulses by thinking rationally and carefully comparing your choices when shopping.

Mad Men Manipulation

Tapping evolutionary impulses is just one way marketers manipulate our brains. Some recent experiments have shown that the right type of ad can implant memories of a product we’ve never tried—or that may not even exist.


Consider an experiment involving Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh microwave popcorn, that buttery, salty staple of home theaters. A group of college students saw vivid images of happy people enjoying the popcorn and heard tempting descriptions of its taste. Another group saw relatively subdued print ads. Some students from both groups got to taste the stuff.

A week later, the students were quizzed about their experiences. Not surprisingly, those who had seen the low-key ads and hadn’t tasted the popcorn reported that they’d never tried it. But many of those who hadn’t tried the popcorn but had watched the vivid-image ads were certain they had tried it. By the way, the Gourmet Fresh variety doesn’t exist. Subjects were given a real Redenbacher’s product to sample.

Further, those who hadn’t actually tasted the popcorn but were fed the slick ads rated the popcorn as just as delicious as those who had tried it. Says Nicole Montgomery, an assistant professor of marketing at the College of William & Mary and one of the study’s coauthors: “We were incredibly surprised by some of these effects. The fact that our memory is so fallible continues to fascinate us.”

Other findings: You’re more likely to create false memories if you’re already familiar with a brand and have a favorable impression of it. Also, the more time that elapses after you see an ad, the more murky the message’s source becomes, and so the more likely it is to insinuate itself into your memory.

Montgomery’s takeaway: She tries to note how ads affect her. “My hope is, that helps me stave off some of these false-memory effects. I pay a lot more attention to what I’m buying, I’ll tell you that.”