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Research Helps Consumers Rediscover Old Favorites

research-helps-consumers-story-thumbnailIf you’ve ever grown tired of the same old-same old, or know what it means to have too much of a good thing, Jeff Galak has the cure: Redirect your attention.

Galak, an assistant professor of marketing at the Tepper School of Business, is the co-author of new research (.pdf) that seeks to identify strategies for reigniting interest among bored consumers.

“Consumers typically enjoy something less as they have more of it,” the authors explain in an abstract describing their research. “Recovery from satiation is stimulated by two things: time and variety.”

In other words, if a person is tired of something they once enjoyed, they’ll learn to like it again, given enough time and exposure to new variations.

The research identifies a strategy people can use to help them enjoy products and experiences that have become boring: The key, they say, is prompting people to remind themselves of other, similar products or experiences they’ve encountered since their last exposure to the now-boring stimulus.

An ad for chocolates, for example, might stimulate even the most jaded chocoholic if it includes pictures of other candies, subtly reminding the consumer of other experiences they’ve had in the meantime.

Galak gives the example of a favorite song that’s played so often on the radio that the listener grows tired of it. By recalling everything they’ve heard since the last time they heard the overplayed tune, the listener is more likely to start enjoying the song again, he says.

“It’s about remembering variety, because the variety itself is what people seem to forget,” explains Galak. “When you think about an upcoming experience, you focus on that experience, and naturally forget about other things.”

The research, which was written by Galak along with Joseph Redden of the University of Minnesota and Justin Kruger of New York University, coins a term for this phenomenon: Variety amnesia.

Strategies for fighting consumer boredom are valuable to business because they help keep customers happy, Galak says. Refocusing the consumer’s attention on a related experience helps extend a product’s market shelf life.

Galak, who officially began teaching at the Tepper School on July 1, says Carnegie Mellon’s strong interdisciplinary approach to behavioral decision research was instrumental in bringing him to the university. “We have one of the best behavioral groups in the country,” he says.

When he first started out in his career, Galak says he thought he would pursue marketing strategy research. A psychologist and adviser in his PhD program got him excited about the field of behavioral research, and the rest is history.

Though useful to business strategy, Galak also has noble goals in mind for his research.

“I’m interested in enjoyment, happiness, and well-being, how to prolong that,” he says. “If we can figure out what makes the consumption experience better, it may be a little grandiose, but we’re making a better world.”

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