Preliminary note: When I look at some of these papers, I start out amused. Then I gradually get more and more annoyed. Who the HECK let this one past any kind of preliminary review?! And how come THIS got published when my perfectly decent study that actually addresses a hypothesis that makes rational sense came back with major revisions?! HUH?!?!?
Did you collect things as a kid? I know I did. Most of the kids I knew did. One girl had all the American Girl dolls, one kid collected baseball cards, a boy collected matchbox cars, and I collected rocks. What? Nothing wrong with rocks! They are cheap, it's hard to find cool ones, and if you go for the smaller sizes they don't take up much space. I do not regret my rock-spent youth.
But did you ever pause to wonder why we collect things? Well, if you haven't, I assure you that other people have. And the answers they come up with will surprise you. First, because of course they involve sex, and secondly, because they don't make any sense.
Apostolou, M. "Why men collect things? A case study of fossilised dinosaur eggs" Journal of Economic Psychology, 2011.
So, collecting things. Specifically, collecting things that have no real purpose in your life other than to give you pleasure. Things like coins, baseball cards, Lisa Frank stickers, or, you know, dinosaur eggs. Why do we do it? These habits can become costly, and they take up a lot of time. Some of them even entail risk (the risk, for example, of someone stealing your expensive statuary, or of a card, say, losing value when people find out the athlete has been doping).
So why do it? There's got to be a hypothesis for this. As a matter of fact there have been a lot of hypotheses, ranging from legitimizing your leisure time, to material goods standing in for lack of love in your life, to my personal favorite, an anal-erotic fixation during psychosexual development (you can thank your anus for your dreamcatcher collection! Courtesy of psychoanalysis, of course).
But what if it was all to impress the ladies? That was what this author hypothesized. The rationale was like this: most collectors are men. Collecting rare items is difficult and represents a lot of effort and time, and could thus be an honest signal of reproduction. Thus, when women seek mates (or, in this author's view, when the parents, and particularly fathers, of women seek mates for the woman), they would like a guy who collects stuff, showing a hardworking nature and an ability to collect resources to support the woman and potential children. So...men collect things because it means they will get mates.
To test this, the author decided to work with a rare collectible, something that required a lot of effort to collect: dinosaur eggs. Apparently, you can find these on eBay (and yes, you can. I just looked). He collected information on 177 eggs, from either raptors or hadrosaurs, with regard to size, shape, and the number of pictures (one wonders if this guy was a fossil egg collector himself, but apparently not).
He then took the pictures of the eggs and showed them to 20 undergrads (12 male, 8 female). He asked them what they thought of the eggs. The ones that were most complete and roundest won out for being the most 'aesthetically pleasing'.
Finally, he took the final selling prices of the eggs. Raptors, being more rare, sold for a lot more than hadrosaurs (though I also have to wonder, is this legal? I mean...is it?). Nicer looking eggs (more symmetrical) made more money.
From all of this data, the author concludes that nicer looking eggs made more money, the desirability of the eggs was related to rarity, size, and beauty, and then hypothesizes that men collect things to gain a reproductive advantage.
Ok, I'll be honest. Maybe I'm missing the point here. I guess it's basic marketing research to note that prettier, rarer eggs make more money, but HOW does this relate to any reproductive advantages at all?! HOW does the study as described provide any basis for the hypothesis of the reproductive advantage?! It's like the whole of this study was:
1. collecting is a dude thing
2. the dude thing must be sexual
3. DINOSAUR EGGS
Not only that, it appears that most of the ideas behind how and why people collect things are...flawed. Really, really flawed. For example, the citation showing that men collect things more than women. I thought that was a bit odd to begin with, and then I realized WHY: the definition of "collecting". The authors of that study limited collectables to things that had no every day value. So baseball cards are in, fine china is out. This clearly discounts a LOT of the items that people collect, including
books, DVDs, clothing, shoes, accessories, etc, etc. I think the limitation on this definition is ridiculous. Just because it's got a use doesn't mean you don't collect it! I collect coffee mugs. I have a lot of nice ones. They often have caffeine molecules on them. And I drink coffee from them...so I guess that means I don't collect them after all?!
And if you limit the definition to such a limited form...you discount a lot of women. Sure I'll buy that far more men than women collect baseball cards. Fine. But what about fine china with little kittens on it? What about Lisa Frank stationary? What about SHOES? Ask about those and I bet your gender ratio is going to start to look a lot more even.
The author also cites a study that conspicuous consumption is a measure of your ability to gather resources...but surely you're not going to say that MEN do all the conspicuous consumption?
And explaining the motives behind collection as being an honest reproductive signal is a pretty amazingly far stretch to me. After all, how many men REALLY think that a woman (or that woman's dad, as this author hypothesizes) is going to be impressed by his baseball card collection? Men who collect baseball cards collect them because they like them, not because they think someone will be impressed. If they wanted to show their resource gathering abilities, there are lots of better ways: owning a house, having a good job, stockpiling food against the zombie apocalypse...lots of options.
The author also concludes that, because of the sexual competition nature of collecting, marketers of collectables should focus on men only. This is both ridiculous (because the sexual competition idea is ridiculous), and terrible marketing sense. Even IF you think men are more likely to be interested, ignoring 50% of the population as a potential audience seems like a terrible business decision (oh wait, Dr. Pepper 10 exists. Never mind).
So, does this study provide a logical background for the hypothesis? Not really. Does the study TEST said hypothesis? Nope. Does the study conclude confirmation of the hypothesis from the results: again, no, the study itself appears to be...kind of silly. But all that doesn't matter! What does matter is that if you want to win a LADY by impressing her father, you need to collect some DINOSAUR EGGS!!! Get on it, guys, those things are expensive.
But you know what? I've also got a better idea. Why do people collect things? Well, maybe it's a combination of factors: initial interest (say, you enjoy baseball), some effort (you get some cards, it's cool to have the stats, you start looking for more), REWARD (you make friends with other collectors! You go to shows where people show off their cards and look at rare ones! You feel the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction of getting something you've been wanting!), and reinforcement of the behavior (you've got friends in the collecting game now, you talk with each other and get lots of benefits out of it). This could work for any kind of collectible, though the rewards and reinforcements do not always have to be social.
But no, it's all about getting those dinosaur eggs to impress the ladies. I mean, just look at 'em up there. All round and shiny. I'm impressed. Anyone else?
Menelaos Apostolou (2011). Why men collect things? A case study of fossilised dinosaur eggs Journal of Economic Psychology, 32, 410-417 DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2011.02.013