Hedonic Adaptation

Restricting pleasure increases pleasure

Hedonic Adaptation

Restricting pleasure increases pleasure

Enjoyment of a television program is actually enhanced by commercial interruptions, despite what viewers say.

Leif & Meyvis (2009) Enhancing the Television-Viewing Experience Through Commercial Interruptions, Journal of Consumer Research

Hedonic adaptation is the tendency of us mere humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major recent positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as we make more money (or eat more choccy), our expectations and desires rise in tandem. This then results in no permanent gain in happiness.

During the late 1990s, the concept was modified by Michael Eysenck, a British psychologist, to become the current “hedonic treadmill theory” which compares the pursuit of happiness to a person on a treadmill, who has to keep working just to stay in the same place.

A 2-week Harvard study was carried out on chocolate consumption with two groups for a two week period. Group A were allowed to binge on unlimited choccies, whereas group B had none. After the two-week period, both groups were then given chocolate. It was found that control group B reported higher treat savouring, higher happiness and was in a better mood after eating the treat.

Other than the studies around chocolate and commercial interruptions, another found that taking breaks while listening to music or getting a nice massage protracted and increased the pleasure subjects received.

Takeaways for Decision-Makers

  1. Too much of a good thing is never good. Think of ways to keep people in a state of permanent, slight hunger, and they will love you for it.
  2. What people think they want isn’t always what will make them happiest. Getting the right balance through the limiting of access is a challenge, especially when people are asked for their opinion. Doing it carefully, such as the slow, strategic release of a piece of media or chapters of digital content, will help build anticipation and positive frenzy. Would Game of Thrones be as fun if all episodes were released at the same time? As a consumer, you might think so, but you’d be wrong.

Further Reading

Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society PDF (Brickman & Campbell, 2007)

Interrupted Consumption: Disrupting Adaptation to Hedonic Experiences PDF (Leif & Meyvis, 2008)

Give It Up: A Strategy for Combating Hedonic Adaptation (Quoidbach & Dunn, 2013)

Why You Don’t Burn Out on Candy Crush Saga (Blog post, 2013)

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