Ending on a Familiar Note: Perceived Endings Motivate Repeat Consumption
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2022
87 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2023
Date Written: June 29, 2022
People fill their free time by choosing between hedonic activities that are new and exciting (e.g., exploring a buzzed-about restaurant) versus old and familiar (e.g., revisiting the same old spot). The dominant psychological assumption is that, holding constant factors like cost, availability, and convenience between acquiring such options, people will prefer novelty (“variety is the spice of life”). Eight preregistered experiments (total N = 5,889) reveal that people’s attraction to novelty depends, at least in part, on their temporal context—namely, on perceived endings. As participants faced a shrinking window of opportunity to enjoy a general category of experience (even merely temporarily; e.g., eating one’s last dessert before starting a diet), their hedonic preferences shifted away from new and exciting options and toward old favorites. This relative shift emerged across many domains (e.g., food, travel, music), situations (e.g., impending New Year’s resolutions, COVID-19 shut-downs), and consequential behaviors (e.g., choices with financial stakes). Using both moderation and mediation approaches, we found that perceived endings increase familiarity preferences because they increase people’s desire to ensure a personally meaningful experience on which to end, which returns to old favorites generally provide more than exploring novelty does. Endings increased participants’ preferences for old favorites even when it meant sacrificing other desirable attributes (e.g., exciting stimulation). Together, these findings advance and bridge research on hedonic preferences, time and timing, and the motivational effects of change. Variety may be the “spice of life,” but familiarity may be the spice of life’s endings.
Keywords: hedonic preferences, time use, endings, novelty/familiarity, repeat experiences
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