Marketers need to take note of Peter Pan complex

April 4, 2007 at 2:23 am 7 comments

Sanchayeeta (MindShare, Delhi) writes:

Evolutionary psychiatrist, Dr Bruce Charlton, has brought to light an important phenomenon, that of ‘psychological neoteny’, i.e. the persistence of childhood behavior into adulthood, as discussed in this New York Times article.

I chanced upon this in Michael Crichton’s latest novel based on genetic engineering, NEXT. Crichton has interspersed the book with various articles on genetic research, one of which was on the Peter Pan complex, i.e. psychological neoteny.

Neoteny is a by product of two things – our system of formal education that lasts well into the twenties and requires a child like stance of receptivity & the rapid social change that we have seen over the past few decades. Markers of maturity such as graduation from college, marriage and first child formerly occurred at fixed ages, but now may happen over a span of decades. Therefore some modern people, in the psychological sense, never actually become adults!

The childlike flexibility helps navigating the modern world. Such people are more likely to change jobs, learn new skills, and move to new places. They also have short attention spans and are frenetic sensation & novelty and seekers.

Second Life, the 3D virtual world built and owned entirely by its residents, seems to be a very good manifestation of neoteny.

Since opening to the public in 2003, Second Life has grown explosively and today is inhabited by a total of 4,673,911 residents from around the globe. There are a fair number of people who make part or their entire real world living by being a creator in Second Life.

As per the economic statistics of Second Life, updated March 31, 2007, there were 1 million active residents in the last 30 days; 16 million square meters of land for sale for the day and a total Linden dollar supply of 2 billion (equivalent to 8 million US dollars, 250 L$ ~ 1 USD).

Seekers of frenetic novelty can never be disappointed on Second Life.

‘Psychological neoteny’ seems to be intuitively right. We see signs of it all around…people buying mobile phones ever more frequently; iPodinomics, the success of YouTube . . .

Marketers and communication experts need to take note of psychological neoteny. And, more importantly, understand how to satisfy this ‘pursuit of novelty’ as people stay younger longer, maybe forever.

Entry filed under: all asia, media general, trends.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yousuf Rangoonwala  |  April 6, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Well-written. And highly relevant. Actually, psychological neoteny is not a brand new phenomenon that has come to light with the success of Web 2.0

    Companies such as Unilever, P&G, Garnier and Loreal have long identified the Peter Pan within us by creating and selling anti-ageing creams, wrinkle-removal pastes, facials, hair-colours, etc. Which should bring us to another question: since most anti-ageing products are the result of tapping into the fear of “losing my youth” in the real world, how is this “fear” going to manifest itself in the virtual world?

    For instance, are residents of Second Life going to experience mid-life crises? If yes, what will be the possible remedies? A virtual escapade for residents of Second Life itself? Will they need anti-ageing creams?

    Or is Linden going to behave like Neverland and toy around with its credibility – which is so deep-rooted in a virtual world that’s as good as real – and promise its citizens that they will never get old?

    In my view, psychological neoteny has a lot to do with prevailing social orders, especially in the nuclear-family West, where social acceptance or relevance within the family is highly dependent on your ability to peform/ carry out your duties which, in turn, is connected with how young and fit you are.

    In the future, therefore, if marketers should take note of something, it should be to identify whether customers looking to remain forever young or tired of staying young in an increasingly iconoclastic and individualistic society, they long to live their lives as quickly as possible and leave for Heaven.


  • 2. Praveen  |  April 6, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Interesting read.

    Stretching neoteny to media, it implies today’s affluent 25+ generation, which was possibly the last to grow up reading ‘physical’ newspapers and listening to transistor radio, would continue to do so for a long time to come. And therefore, it would be unwise to write them off, especially in ageing societies.

    Whereas for the ‘mouse’ and ‘keypad’-fed teens, brands need to primarily focus on the Web and the mobile media to keep them engaged.

    Your thoughts ?

  • 3. Sanchayeeta  |  April 17, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    A comment of Tushar Vyas summed up things quite nicely. We can look at the social order of a particular region/ audience to actually predict their media behaviour and indeed lifestyle. For example some countries demonstrate a highly evolved net usage vis-a-vis others. You can actually link this back to differences within existing family bonds etc. We could for instance create a neoteny marker and thus predict the behaviour of audiences!

  • 4. charlesfrith  |  April 30, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    There was some stuff about this on PSFK that I’m trying to dig out for you.

  • 6. Melissa White  |  May 4, 2007 at 12:12 am

    Upon reading this blog, I was instantly reminded of a very thought provoking article I read last year in The Age’s Good Weekend liftout (melb,aust). It was about a new attitude reflected in a large majority of people aged around 25 and over. Different to past generations, where social traditions once dictated that boys and girls would finish school (and sometimes university), get married, have children etc and subsequently become an adult by a certain age has now radically evolved into an information-age, tech savvy ‘kidult’. Oh what fun…
    Whilst I could not source the original article i read, check out the link for more information.


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