JCR Research Curations
Autumn 2014

Introduction: What are Research Curations?

JCR Research Curations are virtual collections of recently published JCR articles selected to highlight an important consumer research topic. Articles are curated by domain experts who identify links between JCR articles and assemble subject-related collections. The goal of these curated collections is to allow readers to explore a particular issue in depth and garner a deeper understanding of key consumer research topics. We hope the JCR community will find this initiative useful. Please share it widely with your colleagues and students.

Jennifer Aaker

Meaningful Choice

Jennifer Aaker

How consumers choose to spend their time and money defines much of consumer behavior research. Guiding consumer choice is often the question, "What would make me happy?" Yet, research has shown that people's intuitions about what will bring them a feeling of happiness in the moment are often misaligned with what brings lasting happiness, namely well-being. What, then, cultivates a more lasting sense of well-being? A growing body of research suggests that meaningfulness does, and that the time and money spent on meaningful choices is often associated with more lasting positive consequences.

Although meaningfulness seems like an elusive concept, recent research has shed light on its emotional antecedents and behavioral consequences. While meaningful choices are often not pleasurable to make, indeed may come at a cost or involve pain, they are often associated with a larger purpose. As highlighted in the papers below, a choice becomes meaningful when the reason for the choice is to fit important goals (Csikszentmihalyi 2000), which can shift across life stages (Bhattacharjee and Mogilner 2014). These reasons for making meaningful choices include (1) looking backwards (e.g., choices that protect special memories, Zauberman, Ratner, and Kim 2009); (2) looking forward (e.g., choices that allow individuals to collect experiences in their life, Keinan and Kivetz 2011), and (3) looking outward (e.g., choices that enhance the well-being of others and the world, Goldstein, Cialdini, and Griskevicius 2008). Together, these papers suggest that how consumers choose to spend their time and money has more potential for memory-making, fulfillment, and impact than what they may assume. Ultimately, by considering how choices provide meaning in life, we may develop a stronger vision of the significance of consumer research.

In each of the papers selected, the researchers focus on meaningful choices that can come at the expense of experiencing hedonic pleasure in the moment. Although some argue that hedonic value (motivated by a desire for pleasure) and eudemonic value (motivated by a desire for meaningfulness) both relate to well-being, the choices people make when maximizing pleasure versus meaningfulness may be quite different -- which suggests that treating them distinctly is conceptually and practically important. In other words, how consumers choose to spend their time and money when motivated by the question, “What would make me happy?” versus “What would be meaningful?” may, in some conditions, differ. Identifying those conditions is worthy of future research, and the work on meaningful choices that is curated here is an important step in that direction.

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In the first article, Csikszentmihalyi (2000) discusses the importance of choices that fit a goal that an individual values.  Studies show that when people feel empty or unfocused, they feel less alert, active, creative, and strong.  However, when people are focused on a challenging goal-directed activity (e.g., athletics, writing, reading, painting) and they invest effort in the task, it becomes more valuable and their well-being is enhanced.  In this light, the choices consumers make are meaningful to the degree that they foster active engagement in a goal-directed activity.

The second article, Bhattacharjee and Mogilner (2014), examines how people choose to spend their time and money to maximize well-being. They show that experiences can be grouped into one of two categories: the extraordinary (going beyond the realm of everyday life) or the ordinary (which make up everyday life but are often overlooked when the future seems boundless). The results of eight studies show that, although extraordinary experiences are valuable at earlier stages of life, when the self has yet to be defined, mundane ordinary experiences increasingly contribute to a sense of self and well-being as one ages. In this light, the choices consumers make are meaningful to the degree that they reflect their life stage and means towards self-definition.

In the third article, Zauberman, Ratner, and Kim (2009) show that individuals make choices about which experiences to consume over time so as to protect special memories. The results of five studies reveal that people tend to avoid situations that they believe will threaten a special memory (even if the situation is pleasurable). Further, when individuals believe that future events might interfere with their ability to remember earlier special experiences, they acquire memory cues so as to savor the past experience. In this light, the choices consumers make are meaningful to the degree that they protect special memories.

The fourth article in the set, Keinan and Kivetz (2011), examines why consumers choose less pleasurable, even aversive experiences (e.g., eating unappetizing dishes, choosing to participate in anxiety-provoking activities). The results of eight studies reveal that choices are motivated by a need to use time productively and collect new unique experiences – even when those experiences are aversive or painful. In this light, the choices consumers make are meaningful to the degree that they enable consumers to make progress on an “experiential CV” of their life.

The last article, Goldstein, Cialdini, and Griskevicius (2008), hones in on the choices that practitioners might make so as to shift social norms and enhance the well-being of others and the world. In two field studies, the researchers show the power that descriptive norms have on motivating consumers to engage in important, real‐world decisions to reduce resource consumption and enable environmental conservation. In this light, the choices consumers make are meaningful to the degree that they promote prosocial and proenvironmental behaviors.

The Costs and Benefits of Consuming

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Consuming is defined as behavior whereby entropy is increased in exchange for existential or experiential rewards. Existential rewards are well known-for example, the satisfaction of Maslowian needs. But experiential rewards are perhaps just as important: these refer to the temporary improvement in positive mood people experience when they are acting in goal-directed, purposeful ways. Consuming is one way for obtaining such experiences. It is suggested that in order to evaluate the impact of consuming it is necessary to measure the entropy costs of the behavior balanced against the psychic benefits it provides.

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Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences

Amit Bhattacharjee
Cassie Mogilner

Prior research indicates that experiences bring greater happiness than material possessions, but which experiences result in the greatest happiness? The current investigation is one of the first to categorize types of experiences and highlights one important distinction: the extent to which an experience is ordinary (common and frequent) versus extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent). Eight studies examine the experiences individuals recall, plan, imagine, and post on Facebook finding that the happiness enjoyed from ordinary and extraordinary experiences depends on age. Younger people, who view their future as extensive, gain more happiness from extraordinary experiences; however, ordinary experiences become increasingly associated with happiness as people get older, such that they produce as much happiness as extraordinary experiences when individuals have limited time remaining. Self-definition drives these effects: although extraordinary experiences are self-defining throughout one's life span, as people get older they increasingly define themselves by the ordinary experiences that comprise their daily lives.

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Memories as Assets: Strategic Memory Protection in Choice over Time

Gal Zauberman
Rebecca K. Ratner
B. Kyu Kim

We present five studies supporting our strategic memory protection theory. When people make decisions about experiences to consume over time, they treat their memories of previous experiences as assets to be protected. The first two studies demonstrate that people tend to avoid situations that they believe will threaten their ability to retrieve special (rather than merely pleasant) memories. The next three studies demonstrate that people seek to obtain memory pointers to help them cue special memories at a later time when they anticipate interference from subsequent events. These preferences are driven by people's lay theories about the importance and difficulty of obtaining and retrieving special memories.

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Productivity Orientation and the Consumption of Collectable Experiences

Anat Keinan
Ran Kivetz

This research examines why consumers desire unusual and novel consumption experiences and voluntarily choose leisure activities, vacations, and celebrations that are predicted to be less pleasurable. For example, consumers sometimes choose to stay at freezing ice hotels and to eat at restaurants serving peculiar foods, such as bacon ice cream. We propose that such choices are driven by consumers' continual striving to use time productively, make progress, and reach accomplishments (i.e., a productivity orientation). We argue that choices of collectable (unusual, novel, extreme) experiences lead consumers to feel productive even when they are engaging in leisure activities as they "check off" items on an "experiential check list" and build their "experiential CV." A series of laboratory and field studies shows that the consumption of collectable experiences is driven and intensified by a (chronic or situational) productivity orientation.

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A Room with a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels

Noah J. Goldstein
Robert B. Cialdini
Vladas Griskevicius

Two field experiments examined the effectiveness of signs requesting hotel guests' participation in an environmental conservation program. Appeals employing descriptive norms (e.g., "the majority of guests reuse their towels") proved superior to a traditional appeal widely used by hotels that focused solely on environmental protection. Moreover, normative appeals were most effective when describing group behavior that occurred in the setting that most closely matched individuals' immediate situational circumstances (e.g., "the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels"), which we refer to as provincial norms. Theoretical and practical implications for managing proenvironmental efforts are discussed.

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