Fads and Crazes, Trends and Rages: Why we’re always looking for the next best thing | Easy Street

by Dr. Donna Roberts

 

The Story

“I feel like that’s been done before,” chimes Heidi Klum to the hopeful designer facing Project Runway’s latest red carpet gown challenge. And just like that, hope flies out the proverbial window, replaced by the dread of knowing he may be the newest ex-runway contestant. It’s a grave sin, this offense of not being completely new and original. In this design competition, one must “take risks” and show the judges something they “haven’t seen before” to be considered worthy of remaining in the competition.

We see this behavior in humans from cradle to grave. Children of all ages abandon last years’ stand-in-line-for-sixteen-hours-on-Black-Friday-must-have-toy for the next shiny new obsession. And adults … well, if we’re honest, we exhibit much of the same behavior. A closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. The cliché “57 Channels and nothing on,” which is more like 357 channels these days, but who’s counting? The latest and greatest model of smartphone that is only ever so slightly different, and yet different enough that it makes our “old” (as in 18 months old) phone seem so distasteful and archaic. Like the toddler with his passé toy we are bored with what we have and want the next distraction, especially if everyone else wants it, and especially if it is scarce.

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Psych Pstuff’s Summary

Psychologists consider novelty seeking a character trait that encompasses a propensity toward pursuing new experiences and unfamiliar situations, and is often related to adrenaline seeking. It is also associated with extraversion and openness to experience in personality scales, and inversely related to tolerance for boredom and routine.

In today’s super-fast-paced society, this relentless pursuit of the new and different is praised and encouraged, with words like innovative, adventurous and curious defining these individuals, while its opposite is mostly considered old, stodgy and boring.

As with many evasive concepts, we try to nail down a precise meaning and hierarchy, to force order upon that which is seemingly orderless. So it is with the nomenclature for the many aspects of what hits the mark in popular culture.

Styles generally refer to overarching aspects of the presentation of a product and are considered the most enduring, or at least recursive, of these typically fickle phenomena.

Fads or crazes represent specific products or patterns of collective behavior that tend to rise rapidly in popularity for a finite, and usually relatively short, period of time. They can develop an enthusiastic, sometimes cult-like following, and include a broad spectrum of marvels such as diets, toys, clothing, make-up, hairstyles, food, music, sports and daredevil activities.

A fashion represents a middle ground between these two poles. It reflects the current popular trend, but is more pervasive across a particular category and can have a longer duration of popularity.

For those who love a good graphical depiction, LearnMarketing.net provides the differing rise and fall of popularity in these related cycles.

Despite the specificity of this nomenclature, and the predictability of the lifecycles, a bit of mystique still surrounds the phenomena of fads. Just what is it that makes something—especially something seemingly … well … ridiculous (e.g., the pet rock, to note one particularly nonsensical craze) turn into an overnight sensation that one simply cannot live without … at least until the next big thing comes along? Consumer behavior has always had a bit of a black box mystery to it. Research on consumer behavior shows that most people don’t even know why they do things, don’t accurately report their preferences, don’t follow through with their purchase intentions, and often cannot adequately explain why they buy the things they do.

It’s a curious mixture—the way we respond to things and the way we respond to the way other people respond to things. Several psychological concepts seem to touch on a part of the explanation.

The social psychology phenomena known as information cascade leads to the reactive group behavior referred to as the bandwagon effect. Information cascades occur when the observed behavior of others causes individuals to behave in a similar manner, even when that behavior contradicts their own thoughts, beliefs or preferences. Cornell professors David Easley and Jon Kleinberg, in their book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning about a Highly Connected World, note that “a cascade develops when people abandon their own information in favor of inferences based on earlier people’s actions.” The bandwagon effect refers to the increasing rate at which the ideas, fads and trends, propagated by the information cascade, spread as more and more people adopt the behavior, i.e., hop on the bandwagon.

Another behavioral phenomenon that drives the proliferation of fads is the scarcity principle, whereby the perceived rarity or difficulty in obtaining an item fuels the both urgency to acquire, and its perceived value. Combined with the reactance theory, which describes how individuals’ motivation to obtain or participate in something increases with the notion that the choices are restricted, it explains why people react to “limited time only” or “limited supply” offers, when they might otherwise not respond so enthusiastically.

According to Karen M. Douglas in Encyclopedia of Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, “Researchers argue that people follow fads and fashions as a result of both informational social influence (where they incorporate useful information from others about what is acceptable and desirable) and normative social influence (where they adopt the acceptable behavior or desired object so that they themselves are accepted and liked by others).”

From hula-hoops to cabbage patch dolls to fidget spinners. From goldfish swallowing to streaking to twerking. From Elvis to the Beatles to Miley Cyrus. From marbles to FarmVille to Pokémon Go. Our collective obsessions represent the power of social conformity and our need to connect through shared experience, for better or worse.

As Muppet creator Jim Henson, once noted “Nobody creates a fad. It just happens. People love going along with the idea of a beautiful pig. It’s like a conspiracy.” And, who could argue with Miss Piggy?

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A Bad Relationship Could Significantly Shorten Your Life

If a fraught relationship might be significantly shortening your life, are you better off alone?

Stressful Relationships vs. Isolation: The Battle for Our Lives

By AMES HAMBLIN, MD

Source: A Bad Relationship Could Significantly Shorten Your Life

“In your everyday life, do you experience conflicts with any of the following people?”

  • Partner
  • Children
  • Other family
  • Friends
  • Neighbors

A Danish health survey asked almost 10,000 people between ages 36 and 52 to answer, “always,” “often,” “sometimes,” “seldom,” or “never” for their applicable relationships.

Eleven years later, 422 of them were no longer living. That’s a typical number. What’s compelling, Rikke Lund and her colleagues at University of Copenhagen say, is that the people who answered “always” or “often” in any of these cases were two to three times more likely to be among the dead. (And the deaths were from standard causes: cancer, heart disease, alcohol-related liver disease, etc.—not murder. Were you thinking murder?)

The association accounted for variables like cohabitation, chronic physical and mental disorders, depressive symptoms, and emotional-social support. Worries emanating from close relationships like partners or kids were more strongly related to mortality than worries from those more distant. But still, even if you are not overtly trying to kill your neighbor, it would seem that a duplicitous relationship could be ravaging you both.

Lund and other public-health researchers published this association in the current Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. They also saw a similarly morbid trend when those same 10,000 Danes answered a slightly different question: “In your everyday life, do you feel that any of those people demand too much of you or seriously worry you?” Frequent worries or demands from a partner or children were associated with 50 to 100 percent increased risk of dying during the 11-year followup.

The conclusion, then: “Stressful social relations are associated with increased mortality risk among middle-aged men and women.”We could argue all day about the definition of middle-aged here. But that would only kill us faster. Instead, stop reading this immediately and go tidy up all your relationships. If they are beyond repair, sever them completely. Then make a list of all the things you’re going to do with the extra life you just gained. If you don’t make a list, you’ll never do them.In arguably more practical terms, Lund and colleagues suggest another course of action: “Skills in handling worries and demands from close social relations as well as conflict management—within couples and families and also in local communities—may be important strategies for reducing premature deaths.”

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Ruth Frith, 100, competing in the shot put final at the 2009 World Masters Games (Ho New/Reuters)

Epidemiological studies like this have told us before that stressful relationships, especially marriages, are associated with cardiovascular disease, immune dysfunction, and endocrine dysregulation. We’re not certain why. Studies have implicated inflammatory cytokines and elevations in the stress hormone cortisol. This study is unique in looking directly at death, though. It’s especially interesting because positive, protective effects of social relations on health are widely known. Like exercise, relationships shape individual health outcomes throughout life.

In isolation, most of us wither psychologically and crumble physically. In 1979, a California epidemiological study showed that the risk of death during a given period among people with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as in those with the most. Some experts have suggested that isolation, perceived or objective, should be commonly considered alongside things like obesity as a serious health hazard. One study found social isolation was as strong of a predictor of mortality as smoking. People with heart disease are 2.4 times more likely to die of it if they are socially isolated. We could go on and on with these decades of pro-social correlations.

So the point here is relationships are like almonds. We know that if you eat almonds, you increase your odds of living longer—unless you hate almonds so much that eating them sends you into a rage, raising your blood pressure, and you eat them every day until at some point the hypertension eventually causes a stroke. Yes, just like almonds. The objective nature of what’s said or done between people converges with our personalities to create perceptions of that relationship, and that’s what matters and (seems to) significantly influence our bodies. “Certain personality traits may promote the reporting of any social relation as stressful,” the researchers write, “and therefore strong correlations between measures of stressful social relations would be expected.”

 Men did seem more physically vulnerable to worries and demands from their partner than did women, which is in keeping with a scientific understanding of men’s health as especially relationship-dependent. Men release more cortisol in response to stress than women do, and marriage has proven more beneficial to men’s health than to women’s. And it was Harry Nilsson, not Mariah Carey, who was first moved to popularize Badfinger’s “Without You” in 1971 by really drawing out the emotive i in the line, “I can’t liiive if living is without you.”

As with gender, costs and benefits of social relationships don’t play out equally across socioeconomic strata. People on the lower end have the highest levels of social stress, which Lund suggests is due to a lack of health-promoting coping strategies among people who have fewer “intrapsychic and social resources.” People disadvantaged by income, education, or occupational status have “higher social vulnerability towards several types of major personal events such as income loss, ill health, divorce and death of a loved one.”And finally, on a heartening note, people who said they “never” experience negativity from social relationships had a slightly higher mortality rate than those who “seldom” do. So a little negativity might be good. I think that’s how we know we care about people? And how we know we’re alive? I’m not sure.

James Hamblin

JAMES HAMBLIN, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk and is the author of a book by the same title