Instant Gratification Mentalities in Popular Culture and Their Roots in Evolutionary and Cognitive Psychology

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Instant Gratification Mentalities in Popular Culture and Their Roots in Evolutionary and Cognitive Psychology
Man and culture have an interesting history. Before the existence of religion, hunter-gatherers optimized their behavior for survival, and traits in favor of living in the moment were evolutionarily successful. If our early human counterpart found food, he needed to eat as much as he possibly could because he did not know when he would find his next meal. With the advent of religion, man began to delay gratification in this life so he may be rewarded in the next. Since man deviated from the shibboleth that his life is lived so that he may be granted entrance to heaven, the repressed urges and the associated cognitive biases for instant gratification have begun to re-emerge, and are evident in every aspect of today’s culture: our means of recreation, the manner in which we treat our bodies, and in our business and economic practices. Today, science is tackling the explanations of our tendencies for instant gratification in terms of heuristics: shortcuts in analysis that are hardwired into our brain to optimize survival. We are evolutionarily programmed to employ these cognitive biases, to use our energy sparingly, to “be frugal with our mental resources” (Sundar 74); the use of these heuristics is an adaptation that explains our proclivity for all these myopic behaviors definitive of our popular culture.

The theme of instant gratification has its roots in Horace’s “Carpe Diem,” which intended for the individual to utilize each moment to reach a personal goal for their life. It evolved into existentialism, which is represented in popular culture by Fight Club, a novel by Chuck Palahniuk, adapted to the popular feature film. Fight Club suggests that one should seize the moment to follow his life’s passion, to go to school to become a veterinarian, rather than bide your time with distractions. This message is convoluted by mainstream entertainment media...
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