I Want The Real Thing, Baby!

Given the opportunity most of us choose the ‘real thing’ as opposed to an imitation. Of course, we will compromise if forced to by cost. If the imitation is very poor we may even decide to eschew the opportunity of ownership. Even the evolution of our favorite things is a reason for deep nostalgic complaint by the fogies amongst us. Remember that in this fast evolving age, anyone of 30+ is a fogey, so even fogies aren’t what they used to be. But coke ‘Classic’ is still available, although ‘Classic’ refers to that golden age of about 20 years ago, which is about where everyone puts the end of their ‘good old days.’

Along with our desire for the ‘real thing’ goes our tendency to value something that is ‘natural.’ Now, nine times out of ten we will choose to sit in an ‘un-natural’ chair with it’s deep polyurethane foam cushions covered in suede-like microfiber instead of the ‘natural’ one with it’s cold leather cover and stuffed with hard horse-hair. We might decorate our homes with natural ones because they look chic and our guests won’t overstay.

In some cases we will pay through the nose for the real thing and have that natural wood-flooring put down in our homes when a laminate look-alike might be even more practical. The dogs and kids run in and out with muddy feet with all those small sharp stones that are destined to destroy the expensive polished wood surface faster than that of the cheaper laminate which requires less buffing.

Well, of course, we prefer the look and feel of the natural material. Enter the psychologists. Do we really know that, and how do we know that we know that, they ask? Because it looks and feels natural we cry. But how do you know that they persist? And of course they have to test it and now we have a weighty tome of learned origin to study (1).

The experiments described involved 14 different wood chunks and 16 chunks of imitation wood. The lab rats were all between 17 and 37, so there was a delicate seasoning of fogey in the group, which consisted of 24 females and 8 males. What assumptions are at the root of this bias? Could floors and kitchen cabinets be a more female interest? We’ll leave the question to hang out there in the breeze like washing on the line.

Of course, all the good lab practices were used and the numbers were crunched with the usual software, but it’s the results that we are all agog to see. Firstly, the participants were “quite good” at deciding if the wood was natural wood. The big conclusion was that “both vision and touch are highly correlated predictors of visuo-tactile perception of naturalness”. Wow!

  1. K.E. Overvliet and S. Soto-Faraco, Acta Psychologica, 136, 95, (2011).

Leave a Reply