Women Hate Shopping, Too

Question: What is the psychology of men and women when it comes to spending

Lee Eisenberg: The canard is, the cliché is, that women shop and men buy, which is to say, men are divided into these two categories: they're either grab-and-goers -- you know, the guys who run in; where is it? I hate shopping; I'm out of here; goodbye; or they're classified as wait-and-whiners -- you know, when they go out with their spouse or their partner, we've both seen them on a Saturday afternoon, sitting there, you know, solemnly on a bench, if there is a bench, in the department store, really grumpy that they have to be forced into doing that as opposed to lying on the couch watching ESPN on a Saturday afternoon. So men have been cast as these characters who hate shopping.

Women, on the other hand, have been unfairly cast as these creatures who were built to shop; you know, who can barely tell the difference between shopping and entertainment, or shopping and recreation. So one of the things I did in connection with the book was to go shopping with a great many men and a great many women. And what I find is that yeah, most men tend to be a little more impatient than women, but I found a great many women who like nothing else than to grab and go, and who really detested the act of shopping. And I found a lot of men who, while they wouldn't necessarily admit to it easily, really did like to shop.

The other interesting thing about men and women is that women, I think, have taken the rap for being shopaholics, for being compulsive buyers. And there was a major study, probably the biggest study yet done on compulsive buying, published last year. And it was found that there are proportionately as many males who qualify as compulsive buyers as women. But men have an interesting dodge: you know, ask a man who, you know, acquires 200 digital cameras even though he never takes a photograph whether he's a compulsive buyer of digital cameras, and he will say, no, no, no, I'm not a shopaholic; I'm a collector. And I think men have been able to hide behind collecting a little bit more successfully than women have in terms of maybe being out of control in terms of buying either a category of something or anything and everything.

That said, there are some differences. Statistically, men hate to return things to stores. Women return more. They buy more, they shop more, so they return more. But they also seem to have an easier psychological time returning to a store. Men, when you ask them why -- you know, you brought it home; it doesn't work or you can't figure it out; or you bought it with too many features or buttons or options; you can't work it -- why don't you just take it back? Men -- or it's a -- a thread is coming out -- something is wrong -- or it's the wrong size -- men will often not take it back to the store. And if you press them and say, well, why not? First of all it means another trip back to the store, which may be overwhelmingly too tedious or onerous to do, but a lot of men really fear the confrontation that almost never takes place at a store, that fear that there's going to be some kind of a conflict, or a little bit of a conflict or confrontation. And they would just as soon avoid that. Now in fact, most retailers, or most good retailers, make returning things as hassle-free as possible because it's far better business to return something and not lose a customer for life than to give somebody a hard time over the return of one object and never see that person again. So men have all these fears.

The other group, by the way -- and it's a male and female group -- that has a very high rate of unwillingness when it comes to returning things are college students. And again, maybe some of the same reasons. They don't want the confrontation, or they're too slothful, or whatever it might be. But they don't return goods either.

Recorded on November 9, 2009

Lee Eisenberg, author of Shoptimism, debunks myths about males and females spending habits.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.