Six Psychological Reasons Consumer Culture is Unsatisfying
Buying stuff can be disappointing. After swallowing the hype, checking out the options and trolling for bargains, finally you’ve got it; your brand new whatever-it-is.
Before long, though, the excitement fades. Your whatever-it-is isn’t so great any more. They’ve brought out a newer model with more features and anyway you’ve seen it cheaper elsewhere. It’s happened to all of us.
Psychological research tells us that this disappointment is particularly pronounced when people buy things like mp3 players or watches, compared with experiences like vacations or concert tickets.
In a new series of studies, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Carter and Gilovich (2010) explore six reasons that material purchases are less satisfying than experiential purchases, and what we can do about it.
1. Objects are easy to compare unfavourably
The reason is that experiential purchases are difficult to compare. The band you went to see on that wet Tuesday after work on the spur of the moment is likely to be literally incomparable. On the other hand mp3 players are much easier to compare: one has more memory while another looks prettier.
2. A ‘maximising’ strategy leaves us less satisfied
When people choose material purchases they tend to use a strategy psychologists call ‘maximising’. This means comparing all possible options. But because we live in a world of endless choices, maximising takes a long time and is hard work; so people often end up irritated and unsatisfied even when they chose the best possible option.
3. Material purchases more likely to be re-evaluated
We automatically re-evaluate material purchases after we’ve made them. In comparison decisions about experiential purchases, once made, are not revisited and so we have less opportunity for disappointment.
4. The new option effect
It’s always the way: right after you buy it they bring out a new, improved model, or introduce better options.
5. The reduced price effect and 6. A cheaper rival
Carter and Gilovich found that people were more troubled about the reduced price of laptops and watches than they were about cheaper holidays or meals out.
This experiment suggests that thinking of material purchases in experiential terms helps banish dissatisfaction. Try thinking of jeans in terms of where you wore them or how they feel, the mp3 player in terms of how the music changes your mood or outlook, even your laptop in terms of all the happy hours spent reading your favourite blog. (via PsyBlog)
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