First Annual Michigan Meeting 2010

The Interdisciplinary Science of Consumption: Mechanisms of Allocating Resources Across Disciplines

MAY 12-15 2010
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI USA


Below are the full titles and abstracts for the all-plenary talks to be held in Rackham Amphitheater on the 4th floor (registration required).

If you are looking for the titles and abstracts for the student poster session, they are here.

Thursday, May 13th

Antoine Bechara
USC Neuroscience & Department of Psychology
University of Southern California

Title: The hidden island of addiction: The insula

Abstract: I will argue that impulse control disorders, including addiction, are the product of an imbalance between two separate, but interacting, neural systems: (1) an impulsive, amygdala-striatum dependent, neural system that promotes automatic and habitual behaviors; and (2) a reflective, prefrontal cortex dependent, neural system for decision-making, forecasting the future consequences of a behavior, and inhibitory control. The reflective system controls the impulsive system via several mechanisms. However, this control is not absolute; hyperactivity within the impulsive system can override the reflective system. While most prior research has focused on the impulsive system (especially the ventral striatum and its mesolimbic dopamine projection) in promoting the motivation and drive to seek drugs, or on the reflective system (prefrontal cortex) and its mechanisms for decision-making and impulse control, more recent evidence suggests that a largely overlooked structure, namely the insula, plays a key role in maintaining poor impulse control, including addiction. This presentation highlights the potential functional role the insula plays in addiction. I propose that the insula translates bottom-up, interoceptive signals into what subjectively may be experienced as an urge or craving, which in turn potentiate the activity of the impulsive system, and/or weaken or hijack the goal-driven cognitive resources that are needed for the normal operation of the reflective system.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Terry E. Robinson, Ph.D.
Elliot S. Valenstein Collegiate Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
Department of Psychology (Biopsychology Program)
The University of Michigan

Title: Individual Variation in the Ability of Reward Cues to Instigate Desire (and Consumption)

Abstract: Cues associated with rewards, such as food or drugs, can acquire considerable control over behavior, for example, instigating actions to obtain the reward. There is, however, large individual variation in the motivational properties of reward cues, and the extent to which they can be resisted. This presentation will address the implications of individual differences in cue-evoked motivational processes and in cognitive control in the development of impulse control disorders, including addiction, and possible neurobiological substrates.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Brian Knutson
Psychology and Neuroscience
Stanford University

Title: The affective core of acquisition

Abstract: Can affect influence choice? Neuroimaging innovations now allow scientists to peer deep into the brain seconds before people choose. Emerging findings suggest that neural activity associated with anticipatory affect (i.e., affect aroused during the anticipation of good or bad outcomes) predicts eventual choice. Specifically, consideration of attractive products increases activity in a region associated with anticipation of gains (the nucleus accumbens / NAcc), which precedes eventual decisions to purchase. On the other hand, consideration of excessive prices increases activity in a region associated with the anticipation of losses (the anterior insula) and decreases activity in a region associated with balancing costs and benefits (the medial prefrontal cortex), which precede eventual decisions not to purchase. Further, activity in regions associated with loss anticipation (the anterior insula) during exposure to attractive products foreshadow indiivduals' susceptibility to the "endowment effect" (or tendency to overvalue products they own). Finally, manipulating the salience of prices and products influences activity in these regions in ways that may alter specific aspects of valuation. These findings imply that anticipatory affect can influence both rational and irrational choice, and so may inform more inclusive and realistic theories of how people choose.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Bruce J. Ellis, Ph.D.
Professor of Family Studies and Human Development
John & Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting, and Families
The University of Arizona
Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences

Title: Life history, Resource Allocation, and Consumption

Abstract: Puberty represents the transition from pre-reproductive to reproductive phase of the human lifespan. According to life history theory, this transition involves massive reallocation of resources from somatic to reproductive effort. In this talk I will discuss the nature of this transition, development of sex differences in reproductive strategies at puberty, and their implications for consumer behavior.
*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** David Sherry
Department of Psychology
The University of Western Ontario

Title: Decisions, memory, and neural adaptation in food-storing birds

Abstract: Several groups of birds including chickadees, jays, and woodpeckers store food for later consumption. Their behavior varies in the spatial distribution of caches and in how long caches are left in place before retrieval. A number of models have analyzed the decision to store food. The abundance and variability of food, the cost of carrying energy reserves as fat, time of day, and the risk of starvation all influence birds’ food storing choices. Food storing behaviour can also have a major influence on the social organization of birds. Food-storing birds show a number of evolutionary specializations for a food-storing way of life including morphological adaptations for transporting food and changes in brain areas that play a role in remembering the spatial location of caches. The hippocampus in particular shows adaptations such as an increase in overall size and a seasonal pattern of neurogenesis not found in non-storing species.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Randy O. Frost, Ph.D.
Harold & Elsa Israel Professor
Department of Psychology
Smith College

Title: Buried In Treasures: Understanding Compulsive Hoarding

Abstract: Compulsive hoarding involves the excessive acquisition of and difficulty discarding or disposing of possessions together with the inability to keep them organized. The resulting clutter prevents living spaces from being used in intended ways and creates significant distress and/or impairment in functioning. Compulsive hoarding has been widely considered to be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but recent evidence has challenged this classification. Findings from a recent study of over 200 well-defined hoarding cases indicates that depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia are more common in hoarding than is OCD. A cognitive behavioral model of compulsive hoarding suggests that it involves a combination of information processing deficits, emotional attachments to and beliefs about possessions, as well as both positively and negatively reinforced behaviors. Until recently, little research existed on the nature and phenomenology of hoarding. This talk will review what is known about hoarding in humans. Findings from recent studies of the features, course, seriousness, and co-morbidity will be described. In addition, the recommendation for inclusion of hoarding as a diagnostic classification in the next edition of DSM will be reviewed. Findings from a recent wait-list controlled trial of cognitive behavior therapy for hoarding will also be presented.

Friday, May 14th

Paul Webley
Director and Principal, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor of Economic Psychology, University of London
Visiting Professor, School of Psychology, University of Exeter

Title: Children’s saving: the development of deferred consumption?

Abstract: This paper describes two strands of work on children’s saving: one which focuses on the individual and the other on the issue of how orientation to the economic world (and in particular a tendency to save) is transmitted across generations. A number of experimental studies of children’s saving are described, which use a variety of set-ups (board games, play economy). These studies show that by age 6, children have learnt that saving, self-control, and patience are virtuous, but they do not like it very much nor do they save very well. Most 9-year olds and all 12 year olds show a functional understanding of saving. They knew what saving is for and they know how to do it, but they have also developed other strategies for dealing with their future consumption. Intergenerational transmission of economic orientation was investigated using Dutch and British panel data, and a questionnaire study of grandparents, parents and adolescents. These studies showed stronger relationships between the saving and consumption dispositions of the mother and their child than between the father and the child. The relationships between parenting styles and the children’s orientation to economic life were strong, whereas there were weak or no relationships between specific parenting practices and the children’s economic behaviour. The relevance of this work to a general approach to consumption is considered. The development of saving and consumption both involve (i) learning what is valued (ii) learning strategies, approaches and techniques & establishing habits (iii) acquiring self-knowledge. The relevance of the societal context (the long term shift from a pseudo-morality of thrift to a sustainability ethic) is discussed.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Stephen E. G. Lea
School of Psychology
University of Exeter

Title: Explaining life-time decisions: Hyperbolic discounting, mental time travel, and the use and abuse of credit

Abstract: One of the most influential ideas that has entered behavioural economics from psychology has been “hyperbolic discounting”. I will consider how useful it is in understanding major life-time economic choices, such as saving, pension provision or credit use, with a particular focus on consumer debt. The concept of hyperbolic discounting derives from laboratory experiments on intertemporal choice in pigeons, and theoretical work on instrumental conditioning accounts of choice. Because operant conditioning works in the same way in humans as in other animals, we can expect that humans will show hyperbolic discounting over short delays when choices are made without conscious thought. Much economic behaviour falls into this category. However, human instrumental behaviour can be governed by deliberative choice as well as by operant conditioning, and sometimes the two processes predict different results. It is a substantial extrapolation to use hyperbolic discounting to predict long-term deliberative decisions such as those about using credit. I will argue that to understand such long-term choices we need to invoke the concept of “mental time travel”. This capacity, perhaps uniquely human, enables us to recall past events and envisage future events, but it is not clear how far it enables us to compare the value of events at different future times. Hyperbolic discounting may have a role to play in such comparisons, but will not necessarily predict their outcomes directly.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Stephanie D. Preston
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

Title: The proximate mechanisms of resource hoarding: From squirrels to shoppers

Abstract: Research across species and domains suggests a common proximate mechanism for making decisions about resources. Prior experiments on food storing in rodents, as well as human studies of compulsive hoarding, shopping, and gambling implicates the mesolimbocortical system, particularly the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and orbital frontal cortex (OFC). Our own work confirms that this system is implicated in decisions to acquire as well as discard material goods, whether for for personal use or monetary profit--suggesting that this system is more generally engaged by consumption decisions regardless of the frame. However, the degree of engagement of various regions does shift with the frame of the decision, as does the type of items subjects prefer. Demonstrating for the first time that animal and human hoarding are related by more than just a metaphor, the degree of NAcc activation in our task also scales with participants' trait tendencies for compulsive hoarding (particularly trouble parting with goods for emotional reasons). Additional work in our lab confirms that acquisitive tendencies are normally distributed in the population and are particularly associated with underlying differences in anxiety. However, the role of anxiety is extremely complex as only a particular type of anxiety appears to be involved, which overlaps strongly with, but is dissociable from, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. New experimental work in our lab suggests that anxiety associated with attachment avoidance contributes particularly strongly to acquisitiveness, consistent with our developing ultimate view of resource hoarding in primate societies.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Kathleen D. Vohs
Carlson School of Management
University of Minnesota

Title: Overcoming unwanted impulses across domains depletes a common resource

Abstract: People engage in multiple acts of self-control every day. Those that are unsuccessful are due to the failings of one or more ingredients for good self-control; our approach focuses on a lack of self-regulatory strength as one major reason for self-control failure. The strength, or limited-resource, model of self-control depicts the ability to modify or alter the self’s responses as governed by a set of finite resources. These resources become depleted with use, which renders the person vulnerable to failures of self-control. Therefore, after engaging in self-control, people are less successful at subsequent acts of self-control. Research testing the strength model has shown robust support for it in the domains of eating, drinking, spending, sexuality, intelligent thought, making choices, and interpersonal behavior.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Geoffrey Miller
Department of Psychology
The University of New Mexico

Title: Conspicuous consumption as trait-display: How human instincts for displaying intelligence, personality, and moral virtue influence consumers

Abstract: Most animal species, including humans, have evolved various traits for showing off to others. These ‘fitness indicators’ display the individual’s genetic quality, physical condition, and behavioral competence, to attract interest from mates, kin, and allies, and to deter sexual rivals and predators. Some fitness indicators are physical ornaments such as the peacock’s tail, but many are mental capacities, such as bird song, or human language, creativity, humor, art, music, and morality. These mental traits evolved not just for survival benefits, but because prehistoric men and women both favored them as reliable signals of good genes and good brains, based on the logic of costly signaling theory. In this talk I’ll focus on how modern consumers show strong unconscious instincts to display not just wealth, status, and taste, but deeper, more universal mental traits such as general intelligence and the ‘Big Five’ personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability). These six traits are fundamental to consumer identity, sexuality, and sociality, but are under-appreciated in models of consumer resource-allocation decisions that overlook costly signaling effects, positional goods, and conspicuous consumption. The nature of human trait-display is now being shaped mainly by the culture of marketing, and the more clearly we understand this, the more leverage we have for improving society.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************** Vladas Griskevicius
University of Minnesota
Carlson School of Management

Title: Evolution, Life History Theory, and Consumer Behavior: Influences of Current and Childhood Environment on Financial Risk

Abstract: We live in a world of known unknowns. From unpredictable terrorist attacks, to global economic turmoil, to the erratic spread of infectious diseases, many people feel that modern life is more uncertain than ever. Does this sense of capricious fate influence financial decisions? For example, does uncertainty lead people to save money for the future or to spend it all now? Integrating psychology and consumer behavior with the evolutionary framework of Life History Theory, I examined how uncertainty influenced financial decisions regarding long-term investment vs. immediate payoffs. Findings from a series of experiments showed that the influence of environmental uncertainty depended on a second critical factor: individuals’ childhood socioeconomic status. For individuals who grew up wealthy, uncertainty increased long-term investment and saving for the future. Conversely, for individuals who grew up poor, uncertainty decreased saving, producing a desire to go into financial debt to spend money now. This research shows that life-history strategies—including financial allocation decisions regarding long-term investment vs. immediate payoffs—shift as a function of unpredictability in the current environment.