Science has yet to isolate the Godiva Chocolate or Prada gene, but that doesn’t mean your weakness for pricey swag isn’t woven into your DNA. According to a new study of identical twins, it’s less TV ads or Labor Day sales that make you buy the things you do than the tastes and temperaments that are already part of you at birth.
Identical twins are ideal lab specimens for studying the difference between learned and inherited traits since they come from the womb preloaded with matching genetic operating systems. Any meaningful differences in their behaviors or personalities are thus likely to have been acquired, not innate. (More on Time.com: Study: Can We Tell Our Genes to Make Us Fat?)
In a study just published in the Journal of Consumer Research, marketing professors Itamar Simonson of Stanford University and Aner Sela of the University of Florida, Gainesville, conducted studies of the product preferences of pairs of identical twins and compared them to pairs of fraternal twins — who are no more genetically similar than any other siblings. Repeatedly, they found that the identical twins were likelier to exhibit the same tastes across a broad range of products, particularly when it came to chocolate, mustard, hybrid cars, science fiction movies and jazz.
This, of course, could be a largely meaningless finding, at least in terms of genetics, since identical twins grow up not only with the same total-immersion exposure to each other that fraternal twins do, but also with a deep — if unspoken — societal expectation that they will think and behave identically. What the world expects of us we generally deliver.
To dig deeper, Simonson and Sela thus conducted subtler psychological tests to explore various tendencies exhibited by their twin pairs. Among them: an avoidance of extreme choices or behaviors in favor of compromise; a preference for sure things over gambles; and a habit of exhausting all options before making a decision as opposed to deciding more quickly, if perhaps less thoroughly. These, of course, are all behaviors that undergird consumer decisions and they’re harder for twins simply to observe and mimic in each other than, say, whether to go for French’s or Maille in the mustard aisle. As the researchers expected, the identical twins were far more similar in such fundamental behaviors than the fraternals were. (More on Time.com: The Misunderstood Psychology of Fake Tanning)
None of this has much meaning for manufacturers who want to target the twin population. There are simply not enough twofer sibs in the U.S. — about one out of every 32 births are either fraternal or identical twins — to add up to much market share. But it does reveal a lot about why some buyers seem to be suckers for certain products and others are unmoved by them. If you’re a marketer, the key is learning to identify the people who want what you’re selling — and accepting that you may never persuade the ones who don’t.
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