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.

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  • Aspirational membership schemes and belonging The category size bias provides a credible explanation for why we human beings tend to associate with large groups that are viewed favourably by society. Being part of a large and “desirable” social group can make others believe that we also possess the many qualities of its members. For small businesses, it suggests that forming or being a part of a consortium or large and high quality networking group can dramatically elevate your brand image.
  • Communicating category sizes to nudge effectively Highlighting the differences between the large and small categories is highly likely to enhance the effect of the Category Size Bias. For instance, for software companies, stating that there are 10 features in the premium version versus 4 in the free version will help nudge a decision towards the premium version

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  1. The findings from this braingem can nudge better healthcare choices, encourage consumption of a given product, and lead to more confident consumer decisions.
  2. We mistakenly believe that items in larger categories have a higher probability of being picked than ones in smaller categories, despite all items having an equal chance of being picked.
  3. We’ll spend or gamble more money on items put in larger categories.
  4. We’re more likely to take action from tasks when they’re in a bigger list, over a smaller list.
  5. We once we put something into a group, we perceive it to adopt all the characteristics of that group. This suggests that small companies should foster alliances with similarly-principled, more established companies.