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Jonah Lehrer: Uniqueness is a Sham, But People Are Still Driven to It
The Brain | October 18, 2011

Jonah Lehrer: Uniqueness is a Sham, But People Are Still Driven to It

The next time you're standing in line at your hip local indie coffee bar, Jonah Lehrer would like you to look around. The people surrounding you might very well look a lot like you—which defeats the impression of distinctiveness you were hoping to cultivate by eschewing more mainstream coffee options. That strive for uniqueness is the subject of Lehrer's latest Frontal Cortex post for Wired. “Our uniqueness (at least as consumers) is mostly a sham. Somehow, we all end up in the same place, chasing the same trends while drinking the same drink while staring at the same app on the same phone,” says Lehrer. Citing a new study on the subject of drive, particularly the drive for distinctiveness, Lehrer concludes the take-away is this drive affects people well beyond teenage years, and actually follows us throughout our whole lives.

As Lehrer puts it:

It appears to be a pretty essential component of Westerners—that’s why it’s engaged in a deep psychological dialogue with rewards for food and sex. Of course, this won’t be news to retailers. They’ve long catered to our desire for uniqueness, selling us mass-produced commodities that promise to express our real, authentic selves. It’s not until we’re standing in line waiting for a cappuccino that we realize how badly we’ve been played.

Jonah Lehrer—hailed as "an important new thinker" by The Los Angeles Times—is the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and the instant bestseller, How We Decide. Captivating, accessible, and never dull, he talks about how how we can make better decisions—invaluable information for anyone interested in matters of mind and commercial message.
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