You see it in every shopping mall: men sitting outside the clothing store waiting for the wife to come out. Why is it that women love to try on every pair of shoes before deciding whether to buy anything at all, and men want to get out of the mall seconds after they get in?
It's all in the genes, according to Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan. Kruger argues that it's natural for women to love to shop and men to hate it because of our evolutionary past.
Men were the hunters in our ancestral cultures, so when they find a satisfactory specimen, whether it's an elk or a pair of shoes, they want to shoot it and get out before it gets away.
Women, by contrast, were the primary gatherers in early hunter-gatherer cultures, so they feel a need to check every berry on the bush to make sure they're getting the best deal.
That's why, during this holiday season, you're likely to see a lot of men cooling their heels, and a lot of women shopping until they drop. It's mandated (or should we say human-dated) by the evolutionary progress that guided us out of the woods and into the mall.
Kruger, who normally studies gender differences in such things as relationships and roles, is the lead author of a research paper, "Evolved Foraging Psychology Underlies Sex Differences in Shopping Experiences and Behaviors," in the December issue of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology. The idea behind the research began during a trip across central Europe with his wife and a few of their friends.
"We had been visiting quaint little villages in the middle of winter, when there weren't many tourists, and when we reached the tourist mecca of Prague, the guys wanted to go and see all the historical sites and the girls wanted to go shopping," Kruger said in a telephone interview. "We (the guys) couldn't imagine why they would want to do that."
There ensued a "heated discussion," he recalled, after which the guys checked out the cultural attractions and the girls went shopping.
"When they came back with all the purchases, it was almost like a conquest, an expedition," he added. "They wanted to show us all the wonderful things they had found."
The women, it seems, had gone gathering, and the men, of course, had gone hunting, culturally speaking. Surely, he thought, there must be a deeply rooted reason why girls are so different from boys, even when it comes to shopping.
When he returned to the Ann Arbor campus, Kruger and a research assistant, Dreyson Byker, also a male, began poring over the anthropological literature to see if they could find parallels between the ancestral cultures from which humans have continued to evolve, and the current citadel of modern society, the shopping mall.
Briefly stated, they found that early hunters, which were usually men, could use the sun to determine directions, like east or west, and likely followed Euclidian navigation, meaning they understood enough about the world around them to go quickly to the beast of prey, slay it, and return home by the shortest route. Sort of like the way a guy picks out an anniversary card.