Consumption

If the 20th century was the age of consumption, the 21st century is the age of hyperconsumption: consuming above and beyond what one needs, to the point of negatively affecting health.

What do you consume?

what motivates this consumption?

You can have whatever you want, whenever you want. UberRush and Amazon Prime Now fuel these expectations. You can consume and consume and consume, without fear of scarcity. Humans have never witnessed the state of bounty such as you experience today. Are you really living the consumptive utopia imagined by humans of yesteryear?

Consumer beware!

Hyperconsumptive behavior comes with a hefty price tag: lifestyle-induced disease driven by excessive consumption of food, sex, drugs and technology.

  • Diabetes, Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome
  • Sexually transmitted infections: HIV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, Herpes
  • Addictions to Alcohol, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Opioids, etc.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], Depression, Anxiety

Discussion of consumption typically revolves around what can be purchased with money: food, beverage, consumer goods, etc. Yet, there is one form of consumption that supersedes all others:

Time

Let's begin by exploring two historical perspectives on human motivation.

 

Motivation

In your Psych 101 course you learned about Maslow's hierarchy of needs: a stepwise progression of five levels, the first of which must be achieved before proceeding to the second.

Maslow would argue that basic needs--food and shelter--must be satisfied before pursuing more advanced needs such as seeking social acceptance and mastering skills. Maslow arranged these needs into a five level pyramid:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Social
  4. Self-Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization

Clayton Alderfer didn't believe in the strict progression of needs postulated by Maslow, recognized that multiple needs can be pursued simultaneously, and acknowledged that needs vary between cultures (individualized societies versus group-oriented societies) and over time (the needs of a child likely differ from those of an adolescent or an adult). 

Alderfer simplified Maslow's hierarchy into three related categories which he named ERG Theory: Existence, Relatedness and Growth.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs vs Alderfer's ERG theory Clayton Alderfer simplified Maslow's classical Hierarchy of Needs into three motivators of behavior: Existence, Relatedness and Growth.  Image adapted from mindtools.com

Maslow's hierarchy of needs vs Alderfer's ERG theory

Clayton Alderfer simplified Maslow's classical Hierarchy of Needs into three motivators of behavior: Existence, Relatedness and Growth. 

Image adapted from mindtools.com

Where do you find yourself on Maslow's pyramid or Alderfer's ERG schema?

What drives your behavior? Do you consume time to satisfy basic needs of existence or do you seek relatedness through interpersonal relationships or do you pursue personal growth through mastery and enlightenment?

 

Hours of the Day

Humans are the only species of animal that restricts sleep to 'gain' time. From the moment you wake until the instant you fall asleep, how do you spend your waking hours? 

Laying in bed?

Listening to music?

Swiping right on Tinder?

Sipping coffee with friends?

Double tapping on Instagram?

Jogging along the Hudson River?

Now's the opportunity to create a visual representation of your time consumption. On a typical day, how many hours do you spend in each of these categories?

  • Sleep.
  • Eat & Drink. This includes time to purchase, prepare and consume food and beverage.
  • Move. This includes time walking, using the stairs, going to the gym, playing sports, etc.
  • Sex. This includes both time engaging in sexual acts and looking/arranging/preparing for sexual activity, such as Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, etc. Do you spend time daydreaming or fantasizing about sex? Include this time here, too.
  • Work. This includes time dedicated to your professional endeavors. If you work 9-5, how many hours are you actually working at the office? How much time do you spend commuting to work? Do you spend time answering phone calls or responding to emails once you've left the office? Do you have a second, side business?
  • Socialize. This is time dedicated to relationships and includes both in-person and virtual socialization, such as Facetime, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. If you use social media platforms specifically for work, include this time with Work instead.
  • Entertain. This includes watching movies or television, shopping, being a spectator at concerts or shows, etc.
  • Grow. This includes anything to build inner self esteem or promote self mastery. Consider meditation, prayer, playing an instrument or other hobbies.
  • Other. This includes anything else that consumes your time.

Now make a time pie!

This pie chart representing 24 hours of the day serves as a tool to understand time consumption. What surprises you about your time consumption? Which sectors would you like to increase? And which would you like to decrease?

This pie chart representing 24 hours of the day serves as a tool to understand time consumption.

What surprises you about your time consumption? Which sectors would you like to increase? And which would you like to decrease?

 

 

What drives consumption?

 

Consumption

is driven by the pursuit of

pleasure.

 

 

The Nucleus Accumbens: The Pleasure Center

The mesolimbic pathway is the reward circuit of the brain consisting of dopamine-containing neurons projecting from the ventral tegmental area [VTA] to the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of the brain. From neurosciencenews.com

The mesolimbic pathway is the reward circuit of the brain consisting of dopamine-containing neurons projecting from the ventral tegmental area [VTA] to the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of the brain.

From neurosciencenews.com

Advances in functional neuroimaging have revealed that a diverse array of pleasurable activities such as "food, sex, addictive drugs, friends and loved ones, music, art, and even sustained states of happiness can produce strikingly similar patterns of brain activity" (Berridge and Kringelbach).

Snorting a fat line of cocaine, eating a double bacon cheeseburger and jogging along a beautiful mountain trail all engage the same final common pathway in your brain: release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center.

As a human, you spend your waking hours seeking pleasure. Water when you are thirsty. Food when you are hungry. Sex when you are horny. Companionship when you are lonely. All of these activities result in release of dopamine.

The nucleus accumbens desires dopamine release; the mechanism of dopamine release is less relevant. 

Pleasure is pleasure.

Rewards are multidimensional entities driven by liking, wanting and learning (Berridge and Kringelbach). Both the anticipation of pleasure and the experience of pleasure modify dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens. These pleasurable experiences reinforce themselves through various forms of learning. The complexities of these networks are beyond the scope of this post. The key point to remember is this:

the nucleus accumbens craves dopamine.

 

Quitting Bad Behaviors

Ever wonder why giving up one behavior inevitably results in adopting a new behavior? For instance, a person who stops smoking will begin to drink more alcohol or eat more food as a replacement. Or, a man who enters a monogamous relationship will start looking at more pornography to heighten sexual arousal. Or, a woman trying to cut down on time spent on Facebook starts to consume news headlines in place of the social media deficit.

That's the nucleus accumbens seeking to maintain dopamine levels in the brain. 

Rather than use this information to adopt apathy and impotence regarding reducing bad behaviors, use it to your advantage. The next time you try to cut down or eliminate a behavior that has a negative impact on your health and wellness, anticipate the dopamine deficit that will be created.

Preemptively consider a healthier activity you can substitute in its place. Consider exercising, listening to music, enjoying fresh produce or spending time with friends--all of which stimulate release of dopamine, thereby satiating your nucleus accumbens.

 

Resources

Berridge, Kent and Morten Kringelbach. "Pleasure systems in the brain" Neuron. 2015 May 6;86(3):646-64.

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_78.htm

http://neurosciencenews.com/neurobiology-neural-pathway-alcoholism-325/nucleus-accumbens-public/