Cool Book Summary By Steven Quartz & Anette Asp

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Cool (2015) is an insightful book that explores the psychological, neurological, and economic forces that drive people to buy things.

By examining evolutionary biology, neuroscience, economics, and history, the author lays out a convincing case for why the desire to fit in and be accepted motivates us to consume.

In Cool, readers will gain insight into why they make purchase decisions based on what is going on around them.

It also makes a pointed argument that we are powerfully influenced by how other people think of us, which leads people to buy things in order to satisfy a need for recognition and acknowledgement.

Overall Cool is a groundbreaking book about the science behind consumerism that provides powerful insights into why we buy what we do.

Cool Book Summary

Book Name: Cool (How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes our World)

Author(s): Steven Quartz & Anette Asp

Rating: 4.1/5

Reading Time: 9 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Steven Quartz is an accomplished cognitive scientist and philosopher from the California Institute of Technology.

He is both a professor at the university, as well as the principal investigator at its Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, where his primary research involves developing ways to use neuroscience for exploring the humanities and social sciences.

A respected academic, his work has been greatly influential in the field of neuroscience and beyond.

Why We Buy What We Buy: Uncovering The Psychology Behind Our Consumption Habits


Have you ever stopped to consider why we buy the things we do? We may think that it’s solely due to our need for the item, but this isn’t always the case.

In reality, the reason behind why we purchase what we do is often rooted in our desire to be perceived by others in a certain way.

This is nothing new; it has been around since long before anyone threw around the word “cool.” It all starts with something much more basic and primal – psychology and evolution.

Delve into these sections of Cool Book Summary and you’ll find out about why cool products are like male peacocks showing off; how our medial prefrontal cortex influences us to want to appear cool; and why punk rock isn’t as cool as it used to be.

So if you’re asking yourself, “why did I buy that?” then you really ought to read Cool Book Summary – because understanding why we buy what we buy lies at its heart!

The Three Pleasure Machines That Determine Our Behavior: Survival, Habit, And Goal

Many of our everyday decisions and behaviors are actually derived from three pleasure machines within our brains that we may not even be conscious of!

The first one is the Survival pleasure machine, which is reflexive and inflexible and instinctively jumps into action without a thought.

For instance, when you’re having dinner you might heap several servings onto your plate without considering it.

That’s because we’re wired to eat as much as possible to survive!

The second force is the Habit pleasure machine – this one guides your daily routines and repeated actions.

For example, many people have a cup of coffee every morning right after waking up – so much so that it feels like their habit dictates their behavior.

Lastly, there’s the Goal pleasure machine which enables us to weigh both sides of the decision and make informed choices.

Additionally, it works on a social level too – for example if you’re deciding between two different dressings at a store, you might choose whichever option reflects better who you want to be seen as by others.

By understanding how these three different forces can affect our decision-making, we can make more conscious choices in our lives!

The Quest For Social Standing: How Our Desires For Cool Products Affect The Economy


We consume cool products to be perceived as cool by others.

There’s no denying that humans, especially in this age, are driven by the need for social recognition and status.

That’s why we buy that hyped Nike sneaker even though nothing about the shoe’s coolness is actually necessary for us to walk or live.

In fact, even Adam Smith recognized this drive to consume more than what we actually need back in the 18th century.

That is why so many people have a craving to buy these cool products – they make them look good in the eyes of their peers and make them feel good about themselves.

So where do these feelings come from? Our brain activates an area right behind out forehead called the medial prefrontal cortex which is responsible for evaluating how other will perceive us.

Even if we think we’re buying something just because we like it or it serves a purpose, there is always an underlying desire to boost our social acceptance and status without us even consciously knowing it.

This drive has had far reaching effects on society and its economy whether you may initially expect it or not.

Humans Have A Natural Instinct For Seeking Social Status Through Consumption

Consumption is a natural part of human nature, not something we invented on our own.

We have been competing and cooperating with each other since the beginning of time.

That is why our desire for status, and consuming cool things to achieve it, has existed since then too.

According to Thorstein Veblen’s argument about consumerism, products are an artificial marker for social status and competition between individuals.

Richard Easterlin’s theory further suggests that part of this comes from wanting to keep up with others in terms of income.

Consumer critics worry that this could lead to an unethical arms race in which people strive to be seen as ‘cooler’ than one another by buying the latest products.

But evolutionary biology takes a different stance: It claims that consumption is actually driven by an instinctive need for connection and belonging within society.

Just like peacocks use their feathers to attract mates, using certain products can be a way of sending certain signals to others in society – even if that signal is simply a measure of ‘coolness’.

At the end of the day, consumption is just another form of communication between humans – it’s part of human nature!

How Consuming Becomes A Form Of Social Rebellion: From Punk Rock To The Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

It’s amazing to witness how new cultures of cool emerge and make space for everyone.

In the ’50s, a subculture formed around rebellious clothes like blue jeans and leather jackets.

This was an escape from the mainstream conformity of the time, a way to express themselves without fear of judgment.

It turned out that others who similarly wanted an alternative route to status quickly followed suit, pricking the interest of brands behind them.

As styles diversified and multiplied – you had mods, rockers, punks, goths – it was as if there was something for everyone who sought a less conventional recognition among one’s peers.

In today’s era of startups and highly educated tech-geeks, emerging cool is all about values that challenge outdated norms while striving to bring positive societal change into being.

An example is Toyota Prius whose success greatly rose even though it would normally not be regarded as ‘cool’ in comparison to classic cars such as Mustangs or Ferraris.

However, its green credentials meant that it has slowly become accepted and well-liked by those making an effort towards saving the planet we share.

Wrap Up

The final summary of this book comes down to one thing: consumerism is not a sickness or something that is caused by capitalist society, but instead it’s an impulse that has been ingrained into our brains.

It’s not just about buying things we need, it is also about buying products of certain brands to gain recognition and acceptance from others.

To experience this firsthand, the author suggests taking an experiment – buy two drinks (for example Pepsi and Coke) pour them each into a clear glass and serve them to a friend in sequence.

Ask if they prefer Pepsi or Coke and which tasted better – the results might even surprise you!

This simple experiment serves as a testament to how our brains attach emotions and expectations to certain brands.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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