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With the experiential turn in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI), academics and practitioners broaden their focus from mere task-fulfillment (i.e., the pragmatic) to a holistic view, encompassing universal human needs such as relatedness or popularity (i.e., the hedonic). Accordingly, many theoretical models of User Experience (UX) acknowledge the hedonic as an important aspect of a product's appeal. In choice situations, however, people (i.e., users, consumers) overemphasize the pragmatic, but fail to acknowledge the hedonic. The present research explores the reasons for this phenomenon. We suggest that people attend to the justifiability of hedonic and pragmatic attributes rather than to their impact on experience. In other words, they choose what is easy to justify and not what they enjoy the most. Since providing justifications is easier for pragmatic than hedonic attributes, people arrive at a primarily pragmatic choice, even if they would feel better with the hedonic. We explored this assumption, called the Hedonic Dilemma, in four empirical studies. Study 1 (N = 118) revealed a positive correlation between the need for justification and pragmatic choice. Study 2 (N = 125) explored affective consequences and justifications provided for hedonic and pragmatic choices. We further explored two different ways to reduce the Hedonic Dilemma. Study 3 (N = 178) enhanced the justifiability of hedonic choice through product information which suggested hedonic attributes as legitimate. In consequence, hedonic choice increased. Study 4 (N = 133) manipulated the need for justification through framing the choice context. A significant positive effect of a ''low need for justification'' frame on purchase rates occurred for a hedonic but not for a pragmatic product. Our research has a number of implications, reaching from how to elicit require-ments to general strategic considerations when designing (for) experiences.
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The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify
Sarah Diefenbach
a,
, Marc Hassenzahl
a,b
a
User Experience and Ergonomics in Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany
b
Media City, Åbo Akademi University, Finland
article info
Article history:
Received 17 March 2011
Received in revised form 10 July 2011
Accepted 12 July 2011
Available online xxxx
Keywords:
User Experience
Hedonic
Pragmatic
Product choice
Justification
abstract
With the experiential turn in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI), academics and practitioners broaden
their focus from mere task-fulfillment (i.e., the pragmatic) to a holistic view, encompassing universal
human needs such as relatedness or popularity (i.e., the hedonic). Accordingly, many theoretical models
of User Experience (UX) acknowledge the hedonic as an important aspect of a product’s appeal. In choice
situations, however, people (i.e., users, consumers) overemphasize the pragmatic, but fail to acknowledge
the hedonic. The present research explores the reasons for this phenomenon. We suggest that people
attend to the justifiability of hedonic and pragmatic attributes rather than to their impact on experience.
In other words, they choose what is easy to justify and not what they enjoy the most. Since providing
justifications is easier for pragmatic than hedonic attributes, people arrive at a primarily pragmatic
choice, even if they would feel better with the hedonic. We explored this assumption, called the Hedonic
Dilemma, in four empirical studies. Study 1 (N= 118) revealed a positive correlation between the need for
justification and pragmatic choice. Study 2 (N= 125) explored affective consequences and justifications
provided for hedonic and pragmatic choices. We further explored two different ways to reduce the
Hedonic Dilemma. Study 3 (N= 178) enhanced the justifiability of hedonic choice through product
information which suggested hedonic attributes as legitimate. In consequence, hedonic choice increased.
Study 4 (N= 133) manipulated the need for justification through framing the choice context. A significant
positive effect of a ‘‘low need for justification’’ frame on purchase rates occurred for a hedonic but not for
a pragmatic product. Our research has a number of implications, reaching from how to elicit require-
ments to general strategic considerations when designing (for) experiences.
Ó2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
For more than a decade, the ‘‘experiential turn’’ (see Hassenzahl
and Tractinsky (2006) for an overview) in Human–Computer
Interaction (HCI) acknowledges aspects beyond the task-oriented,
such as pleasure (Jordan, 1998), fun (Draper, 1999), the hedonic
(Hassenzahl et al., 2000), beauty (Tractinsky et al., 2000), the ludic
(Gaver, 2002), emotions (Desmet et al., 2001), and experience
(McCarthy and Wright, 2004). Though different in detail, these ap-
proaches agree that attributes beyond effectiveness and efficiency
play an important role for the appeal and acceptance of interactive
products – a claim, nowadays widely accepted among academics
and practitioners of HCI.
Many of the available models of User Experience (UX) broadly
distinguish between instrumental, task-oriented, pragmatic and
non-instrumental, self-oriented, hedonic attributes of interactive
products (see Hassenzahl (2010) for an overview). More specifically,
Hassenzahl (2003, 2010) argued that pragmatic quality summarizes
the product’s perceived ability to support the achievement of do-
goals, such as ‘‘making a telephone call’’, ‘‘finding a book in an on-
line-bookstore’’, or ‘‘setting-up a webpage’’. However, people do
those things for a reason. ‘‘Making a telephone call’’ is not an end
in itself, it is – amongst others – a way to feel related to one’s spouse
when being away or a way to kill time when being bored (i.e., to feel
stimulated). Such underlying reasons ultimately stem from basic
human needs, such as relatedness, stimulation, or competence (Has-
senzahl et al., 2010). They describe how people want to be (e.g., re-
lated, stimulated, competent); they are be-goals (see Carver and
Scheier, 1998). Hedonic quality summarizes the product’s perceived
ability to support the achievement of such be-goals. Assessing a
product’s pragmatic quality calls for a focus on functionality and
usability in relation to a potential task at hand. Assessing a product’s
hedonic quality calls for a focus on the Self and its needs, that is, the
question of why someone owns and uses a particular product. The
concept of hedonic quality is still evolving. But the contribution of
hedonic quality to a product’s appeal and acceptance, and the viabil-
ity of separating the hedonic from the pragmatic, are already well-
supported empirically (e.g., Hassenzahl and Monk, 2010; van Schaik
and Ling, 2008; van Schaik and Ling, 2011).
0953-5438/$ - see front matter Ó2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
Corresponding author. Address: User Experience and Ergonomics in Design,
Folkwang University of the Arts, Campus University of Duisburg – Essen, Univer-
sitätsstrasse 12, 45141 Essen, Germany. Tel.: +49 179 284 36 53.
E-mail address: sarah.diefenbach@folkwang-uni.de (S. Diefenbach).
Interacting with Computers xxx (2011) xxx–xxx
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Interacting with Computers
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/intcom
Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
An aspect so far neglected by HCI researchers is the potential
impact of the qualitative difference between hedonic and prag-
matic quality attributes on product choice. Just imagine choosing
between a $50 certificate for a dinner in a nice restaurant (i.e., a he-
donic option) and a $50 certificate for groceries from the super-
market around the corner (i.e., a pragmatic option). Okada (2005)
confronted people with both alternatives in a combined choice sit-
uation. Although participants rated the dinner certificate to be
more appealing, they predominantly chose the groceries certificate.
Okada (2005) argued this to be the consequence of a justification
process. Driven by a general need for justification, people think
about reasons for their choice. However, it may be more difficult
to envision reasons for obtaining primarily hedonic objects, be-
cause their benefits are rather diffuse and hard to quantify. In addi-
tion, hedonic alternatives often go beyond the bare necessity. Thus,
they are viewed as wasteful, and their acquisition or consumption
becomes associated with luxury, indulgence, or guilt (e.g., Kivetz
and Simonson, 2002; Prelec and Loewenstein, 1998; Strahilevitz
and Myers, 1998). Hedonic quality – or more broadly, positive
experiences through fulfillment of human needs – can be under-
stood as the ultimate benefit of using a product. Nevertheless, this
benefit is more ephemeral and, thus, harder to justify than any
pragmatic benefit of product use. This imbalance may be even
more pronounced in the domain of interactive products, with its
traditional focus on task-fulfillment. From this perspective, the
importance of pragmatic attributes is self-evident. They typically
do not require additional justification. But to justify hedonic attri-
butes, one cannot rely on the widely accepted notion of task-fulfill-
ment. Since they benefit ‘‘only’’ the Self, one needs to refer to
personal needs and feelings, and the subjective pleasure derived
from hedonic attributes. This certainly emphasizes their relevance
for experience. But at the same time, the subjectivity and seeming
irrationality of hedonic attributes makes them more questionable
as a reason for choice. To summarize, while hedonic quality is
appealing, its potential consideration in choice falls well behind
that of pragmatic quality. This is due to a need to justify a choice
and an asymmetry in the justifiability of hedonic and pragmatic
attributes.
Diefenbach and Hassenzahl (2008, 2009) found evidence for
this phenomenon in the context of interactive products. Their stud-
ies focused on visual appeal (i.e., beauty) as a hedonic attribute and
usability as a pragmatic attribute of mobile phones. Note, that we
understand an ‘‘attribute’’ as a quality aspect that individuals as-
cribe to the product, based on information provided or personal
experience. Usability is thus a judgment about a product’s per-
ceived capability to achieve given tasks, in a given context, with
certain efficiency. This is akin to ‘‘apparent usability’’ (Kurosu
and Kashimura, 1995) or ‘‘perceived usability’’ (e.g., Tractinsky
et al., 2000). Beauty is thought of as a judgment as well, more spe-
cifically, ‘‘a predominantly affect-driven evaluative response to the
visual Gestalt of an object’’ (Hassenzahl, 2008). Attributes like
‘‘usability’’ and ‘‘beauty’’ thus refer to people’s judgments about
those particular aspects of interactive products. In their studies,
Diefenbach and Hassenzahl (2009) revealed a reluctance to pay
for a more beautiful mobile phone (Study 1) but a preference for
a more beautiful phone when no surcharge was required (Study
2). However, participants who then chose the more beautiful
phone still justified their choice by referring to marginal advanta-
ges in usability. Finally, another choice scenario required an expli-
cit trade-off between beauty and usability, i.e., there was no
opportunity to justify the choice of the more beautiful phone by
pragmatic attributes. This led to a sharp increase in choices of
the primarily pragmatic phone (Study 3). In sum, those studies
demonstrated that people appreciate beauty (Study 2), but at the
same time are not willing to pay for it (Study 1), or to accept any
drawbacks in usability in return (Study 3). We suggested that those
preference shifts reveal a basic preference for beauty (i.e., the he-
donic), which, however, is overridden in situations where people
feel a need to justify their choice. The aim of the present research
is to gain a deeper understanding of this Hedonic Dilemma – or the
dilemma of ‘‘why don’t we choose what makes us happy?’’ (Hsee
and Hastie, 2006) – and the specific role of justification.
This paper starts with a discussion of the theoretical back-
ground of the suggested dilemma. We then present a series of four
studies, organized in two parts, on the impact of justification with-
in trade-offs between hedonic and pragmatic attributes. The pres-
ent studies advance our understanding by not only demonstrating
the phenomenon of context-dependent preference shifts between
primarily hedonic and pragmatic products, but also by exploring
justification as underlying driver. Study 1 revealed a correlation
between the perceived need for justification and pragmatic choice,
and identified differences in affective consequences of a primarily
hedonic versus primarily pragmatic choice. Affective consequences
and stated reasons for hedonic and pragmatic choice were further
explored in Study 2. The second part of studies (Study 3 and Study
4) specifically explored ways of reducing the impact of the dilem-
ma on choice. Study 3 enhanced the justifiability of hedonic choices
by legitimating hedonic attributes. In Study 4, the general need for
justification was reduced by framing a purchase as gratification.
Altogether, the studies supported the notion that justification lies
at the heart of the Hedonic Dilemma, and, in addition, demonstrated
strategies to alleviate it.
2. Theoretical background
2.1. The origin of the hedonic/pragmatic model in consumer research
Since the influential article by Hirschman and Holbrook (1982)
on hedonic consumption, many authors (e.g., Batra and Ahtola,
1990; Mano and Oliver 1993) in the field of consumer research
took up the distinction between the hedonic and the utilitarian
dimension of perceived product quality. While typical hedonic
attributes are ‘‘exciting’’, ‘‘interesting’’, ‘‘fascinating’’, or ‘‘fun’’,
utilitarian attributes are ‘‘efficient’’, ‘‘practical’’, ‘‘necessary’’, or
‘‘useful’’ (e.g., Batra and Ahtola, 1990; Spangenberg et al., 1997;
Voss et al., 2003). A number of studies explored the relation of both
dimensions to different facets of product experience, such as phys-
iological arousal, affect in general, involvement, product satisfac-
tion, resulting specific cognitions, and global product evaluation
(e.g., Böhm and Pfister, 1996; Chandon et al., 2000; Dhar and
Wertenbroch, 2000; Mano and Oliver 1993). A central finding
was that both dimensions significantly contribute to product
satisfaction (e.g., Mano and Oliver 1993). This implies that both,
hedonic and pragmatic attributes, must be taken into account for
creating a fully satisfying product experience.
2.2. Hedonic and pragmatic attributes of interactive products
Hassenzahl and colleagues (2000) first introduced the notion of
hedonic and pragmatic (back then: ergonomic) quality to HCI and
further developed the concept. Accordingly, scales capturing hedo-
nic and pragmatic quality of interactive products have been devel-
oped (e.g., Hassenzahl et al., 2000, 2003; Huang, 2004; Karson,
2000). A number of studies explored the links of the two quality
dimension to different facets of product experience (Hassenzahl,
2003; Chitturi et al., 2007). Finally, both dimensions have been
identified as relevant predictors of an interactive product’s overall
evaluation (e.g., Hassenzahl, 2001; van Schaik and Ling, 2008,
2011).
In fact, the ubiquitous, continuous impact of hedonic attributes
on product experience seems obvious. Beauty, for example,
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Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
influences the relationship between user and product from the very
first sight (Bloch et al., 2003; Hollins and Pugh, 1990). A first visual
impression generates an evaluative response towards the product
(Lindgaard, 2007), which is likely to impact later judgments about
value and quality (Hassenzahl and Monk, 2010). In addition, a cer-
tain level of pragmatic quality is often taken for granted. While its
absence will certainly stand out in a negative way, its existence it-
self is not a rich source of pleasure. To give an example: a mobile
phone’s speech quality is simply expected. If the phone is not good
at this, it will be experienced as negative. However, a phone is rarely
praised for its speech quality (except by tech journalists). An out-
standing, beautiful design, perfectly fitting one’s personal style,
however, is able to directly address human needs, such as popular-
ity. Pragmatic quality can thus be considered as a ‘‘hygiene factor’’,
enabling positive experience through removing barriers, and hedo-
nic quality as a ‘‘motivator’’, enabling positive experience in a direct
way. This was also supported by a recent study by Hassenzahl and
colleagues (2010). They found only an indirect link between prag-
matic quality and positive experience, but a direct link between he-
donic quality and positive experience.
2.3. The dilemma of the hedonic
Given the importance of hedonic attributes for a positive User
Experience, it is only natural that hedonic attributes should be con-
sidered important in product choice. However, findings from con-
sumer research suggest that people are skeptical about hedonic
attributes as legitimate choice criteria (e.g., Chitturi et al., 2007;
Okada, 2005). This creates a dilemma: if hedonic attributes are
downplayed in choice, although they are crucial for the quality of
experience, people may end up choosing what they actually do
not want. Those potential inconsistencies between choice and ac-
tual experience were demonstrated by Hsee and colleagues’
(2003) work on ‘‘lay rationalism’’ and ‘‘lay functionalism’’. In one
study, for example, they showed that given the choice of purchas-
ing one of two television sets, a considerable part of participants
chose the one with the higher picture but lower sound quality,
rather than the one with a more balanced distribution of sound
and picture quality. However, another group of participants was
asked to pick the one, they would enjoy the most. In this more
experiential frame, more participants preferred the one with the
more balanced distribution. Those participants obviously consid-
ered the movie watching experience as a whole, whereas in the
aforementioned purchase frame, participants focused on maximiz-
ing the quality of the primary function only (i.e., picture quality for
a TV). However, this ‘‘lay functionalism’’ may eventually lead to the
less positive experience. In sum, Hsee and colleagues (2003) dem-
onstrated that when making a choice, people tend to focus on
‘‘rationalistic’’ factors, such as the product’s primary function or
other ‘‘hard’’, objective, unambiguous attributes. At the same time,
they downplay ‘‘soft’’, subjective, ambiguous attributes, and attri-
butes unrelated to a product’s primary function (e.g., sound quality
of a television). Applied to the hedonic/pragmatic model, we sug-
gest a parallel between what people typically consider ‘‘rational’’
aspects and pragmatic attributes on the one hand, and ‘‘soft’’, ‘‘irra-
tional’’ aspects and hedonic attributes on the other hand. As a con-
sequence, hedonic attributes may be downplayed in choice
situations, despite their role as drivers of positive experience. What
emerges is a gap between choice (predominantly driven by the
pragmatic) and experience (driven by the pragmatic and the hedo-
nic) – the Hedonic Dilemma.
2.4. Justification as the source of the dilemma
We suggest differences in the justifiability of hedonic and prag-
matic attributes as the main reason for downplaying the hedonic in
choice. Hedonic attributes are not disregarded per se – they may
even attract more attention than pragmatic attributes. But as soon
as a choice requires an explicit tradeoff between hedonic and prag-
matic attributes, the need for justification may lead to a neglect of
hedonic attributes, due to their lacking justifiability. If, however, no
tradeoff is required, hedonic attributes can be considered in secret.
Accordingly, several studies showed that people justified their
choice by referring to pragmatic attributes, even though statistical
analysis revealed hedonic attributes to be the deciding factor (e.g.,
Diefenbach and Hassenzahl, 2009; Tractinsky and Zmiri, 2006). In
other words, pragmatic attributes served as a justification for he-
donic benefits. This pattern accords to what Keinan and colleagues
(2009) call a ‘‘functional alibi’’. They argue that ‘‘consumers ratio-
nalize their frivolous behavior by inflating the perceived value of
minor functional features or aspects of the luxury product [...].
For example, consumers whose cars never touch a dirt road often
justify the purchase of an extravagant SUV by its performance in
extreme driving conditions’’. Thus, even if hedonic attributes are
crucial for choice, they are only rarely acknowledged as such on
an overt, rational level. As soon as justification is required, hedonic
attributes are downplayed (e.g., Diefenbach and Hassenzahl, 2008,
2009). One may think of it as a continuum. As long as the need for
justification is low (e.g., due to the lack of an explicit trade-off be-
tween hedonic and pragmatic), there is no need to question the de-
sire for the hedonic. But with mounting need for justification,
justification may trump one’s desire, and the attribute’s justifiabil-
ity becomes more relevant for choice than its impact on experi-
ence. Accordingly, the preference for a primarily hedonic product
is expected to be susceptible to variations in the need for justifica-
tion, whereas the preference for a primarily pragmatic product
(whose choice is justified per se) is not.
The assumption of such an asymmetric effect is supported by
studies from consumer research. For example, a differential effect
of the effectiveness of promotion for primarily hedonic and pri-
marily pragmatic products was revealed. For primarily hedonic
products, promotion led to a significant increase in purchase, since
it provided a welcome justification for a purchase which would
have been hard to justify otherwise. In contrast, pragmatic product
purchase is justified per se and was thus not affected by external
justifications provided by promotions (e.g., Zheng and Kivetz,
2009). Khan and Dhar (2010) studied the effectiveness of discounts
on certain items in product bundles. They revealed discounts (i.e.,
potential justifications for product purchase) to be more effective
when framed as savings on the hedonic item than when framed
as savings on the pragmatic item – even though the total price
for the two products remained the same. Finally, Chiou and Ting
(2011) revealed a differential effect of shopping motivation (goal
oriented vs. experiential) on hedonic and pragmatic purchase.
Again, pragmatic purchase was unaffected by the context.
Expenses on hedonic products, however, increased when the pur-
chase was framed as planned and related to a particular objective
– which facilitated justification. All these findings indicate that the
problem of justification is especially salient for the acquisition of
primarily hedonic products. This perspective is also supported by
a number of context-dependent preference shifts from pragmatic
to hedonic options in choice situations with a reduced need for jus-
tification. For example, Böhm and Pfister (1996) found an increased
focus on hedonic attributes for product choices in private com-
pared to public contexts. Similarly, O’Curry and Strahilevitz
(2000) found a preference for pragmatic products in standard pur-
chase situations, but a shift to hedonic products when it was about
choosing lottery prizes. In addition, preferences for pragmatic ver-
sus hedonic options vary between separate choice (i.e., only one
product to choose or reject) and joint choice (i.e., a choice between
two or more products simultaneously). In a field study in a restau-
rant, Okada (2005) studied preferences for a more ‘‘pragmatic’’,
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Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
healthy dessert (low-fat Cheesecake deLite) and a ‘‘hedonic’’, less
healthy, but probably more delicious, dessert (Bailey’s Irish Cream
Cheesecake). When both desserts were offered on the same day
(i.e., jointly), the pragmatic cake was ordered more frequently.
But when each dessert was offered on a different day (i.e., sepa-
rately), preferences reversed. Again, this preference shift from the
pragmatic (in a joint choice situation) to the hedonic (in a separate
choice situation) can be explained by justification. Choice in a joint
situation requires an explicit trade-off, i.e., an explicit comparison
of attributes (e.g., healthy versus tasty), which implies justification.
The absence of such a trade-off in a separate choice situation leads
to a relative reduction of the need for justification, and an accord-
ing increase of hedonic choice. Taken together, the reported find-
ings suggest that whenever a choice between a predominantly
hedonic and a predominantly pragmatic option requires justifica-
tion, a pragmatic choice may not be driven by a true preference
but by the need for justification.
2.5. Potential consequences of the dilemma
A tendency towards the pragmatic in choice situations, due to
justification, can be disadvantageous in many respects. As hedonic
attributes are directly related to be-goals, and thus close to the
user’s Self, they are the main drivers of what Belk (1988) calls
‘‘emotional product attachment’’. Of course, a product can also cre-
ate ‘‘functional attachment’’ through pragmatic quality. But given
the enormous availability of products performing the same func-
tion, i.e., supporting the same do-goal, this functional attachment
may become more and more negligible (Hassenzahl and Roto,
2007). A product only appreciated for its pragmatic benefits, such
as a dishwasher, will be replaced without second thoughts. There
is no emotional attachment to the particular dishwasher, and prob-
ably not even to the brand. A solely function-oriented market,
highlighting pragmatic benefits only, seems thus not desirable
for companies. From a consumer’s perspective, a choice based on
pragmatic attributes, while actually favoring a more hedonic prod-
uct, is obviously a bad start for a fulfilling product relation. In short,
customers and vendors of interactive products alike would benefit
from a more unbiased, less skeptical consideration of hedonic attri-
butes. From a methodological point of view, justification could
interfere with the valid interpretation of market and user studies.
For example, requirements analysis may reveal solely pragmatic
user needs, simply due to participants’ perceived need for justifica-
tion induced by the direct probing. Consequentially, study after
study will point out a pronounced consumer requirement for the
pragmatic. And if taken seriously, the apparent demand for the
pragmatic reported in such studies will be reflected in product de-
sign as well. This may then result in overly functional products
with only a small potential to create the experiential quality so
crucial for emotional attachment.
2.6. Why studying the dilemma in HCI?
So far, only few HCI researchers addressed the difficulty to jus-
tify hedonic choices (e.g., Diefenbach and Hassenzahl, 2008, 2009;
Tractinsky and Zmiri, 2006), even though the phenomenon is well
documented in consumer research literature (e.g., Böhm and Pfis-
ter, 1996; Kivetz and Simonson, 2002; O’Curry and Strahilevitz,
2000; Okada, 2005). This disregard is surprising, especially since
neglecting one’s true preference seems even more relevant for
durable interactive products (e.g., mobile phones, mp3 players),
compared to fast moving consumer goods, such as pencils and
chocolate (Strahilevitz and Myers, 1998) or glue sticks and candy
(Dhar and Wertenbroch, 2000). Indeed, several studies addressed
the characteristics of hedonic qualities in interactive products
and explored, for example, user acceptance of hedonic interactive
products and their relation to behavioral intentions (Turel et al.,
2010). However, the potential conflict between hedonic and prag-
matic attributes has rarely been addressed. An exception is the re-
search by Chitturi and colleagues (e.g., Chitturi, 2009; Chitturi
et al., 2007; Chitturi et al., 2008). They studied specific emotions
related to hedonic and pragmatic product use, depending on
whether expectations towards the product have been met or not.
For example, Chitturi (2009) showed that the presumption of a
negative consumption experience, i.e., the product did not fulfil
one’s expectations, evokes higher feelings of guilt for a primarily
hedonic product compared to a primarily pragmatic alternative.
However, a profound exploration of the differential relation of jus-
tification to hedonic and pragmatic attributes and its consequences
for choice is still lacking. This gap will be addressed by the present
research.
3. Product choice and justification
3.1. Study 1: Justification, product choice, and affective consequences
3.1.1. Hypotheses and procedure
Study 1 explored the relation between need for justification and
product choice and differences in affective consequences of prag-
matic versus hedonic choice. We confronted participants with
the choice between a primarily pragmatic and a primarily hedonic
product. Given that the justifiability of pragmatic attributes is
higher than that of hedonic attributes, we expected a more fre-
quent choice of the pragmatic over the hedonic product (H1). How-
ever, we assumed this seeming preference for the pragmatic to be
the consequence of participants’ perceived need for justification
rather than a ‘‘true’’ preference. Accordingly, participants who
chose the pragmatic were expected to report a higher perceived
need for justification (H2) but to be less happy with their choice,
i.e., they will report less positive post-choice affect (H3).
The study was carried out online with SurveyMonkey (www.
surveymonkey.com) in German. An invitation with a link to the
study was sent to students’ unions representatives of various uni-
versities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They were asked to
distribute the link via mailing lists or their webpage. Accordingly, a
response rate could not be computed. In the present study, 118 of
the 160 (74%, retention rate) individuals who started the study
completed it as well. Those were included in the final sample
(N= 118, 85 female, mean age = 24 years, min = 18, max = 41).
The choice scenario asked participants to imagine having just
closed a mobile phone contract. This contract allowed participants
to choose a complimentary phone, out of a set of four (see Fig. 1).
The phones were selected from a pool of ten, pre-tested by an
independent sample of 223 participants (167 female, mean
age = 25 years, min = 16, max = 49), who ranked the ten phones
Fig. 1. Mobile phones. A and B are the most beautiful (i.e., the most hedonic), C and
D the least beautiful (i.e., the least hedonic).
4S. Diefenbach, M. Hassenzahl / Interacting with Computers xxx (2011) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
according to their beauty. A and B were considered the most beau-
tiful phones (A: mean rank = 2.62, 95% CI [2.35; 2.89]; B: mean
rank = 3.72, 95% CI [3.41; 4.03]), whereas C and D were considered
the least beautiful phones (C: mean rank = 7.58, 95% CI [7.08;
7.74]; D: mean rank = 7.6, 95% CI [7.25; 7.91]). These differences
in beauty served as the operationalization of the broad notion of
hedonic quality (see Hassenzahl and Monk (2010), for the concep-
tual link between beauty and hedonic quality). Note, that differ-
ences in hedonic quality (here: beauty) were not explicitly
mentioned, but were only implicitly suggested through the pic-
tures of the phones.
We manipulated pragmatic quality by providing explicit usabil-
ity ratings, presented as the result of a ‘‘customer survey.’’ The rat-
ings had different ranges, however, the median rating was always
lower for the more beautiful phones (A/B: 7 of 15 points) than for
the less beautiful phones (C/D: 9 of 15 points). As a consequence,
A/B were predominantly hedonic (higher beauty but lower usabil-
ity) and C/D were predominantly pragmatic (higher usability but
lower beauty).The participants’ choice thus required a tradeoff be-
tween hedonic and pragmatic attributes.
Participants made their choice (i.e., picked one phone out of
four) and were then asked to rate their perceived need for justifi-
cation in the present choice situation on a five-point-scale, ranging
from ‘‘justification was irrelevant’’ to ‘‘justification was highly rel-
evant’’. They were further asked to vividly imagine the situation of
receiving the chosen phone and to rate their overall affective expe-
rience with the help of the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PA-
NAS, Watson et al., 1988). PANAS is a widely used questionnaire,
which measures positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) by
verbal descriptors of different affective experiences. Its short form
(Mackinnon et al., 1999) consists of ten items: alert,determined,
enthusiastic,excited, and inspired for positive affect, and afraid,dis-
tressed,nervous,scared, and upset for negative affect. Participants
indicated the intensity of each particular facet of affective experi-
ence on a five-point scale, ranging from ‘‘not at all’’ to ‘‘extremely’’.
PANAS can assess affect within shorter and longer time frames
(e.g., ‘‘today’’, ‘‘during the past weeks’’) by different temporal
instructions. In the present study, we used the ‘‘momentary’’ affect
instruction (i.e., ‘‘right now’’), recommended to assess relatively
short-term fluctuations in affect (Watson and Clark, 1999). Several
validation studies (Watson and Clark, 1999) demonstrated PANAS
to be sensitive to short-term changes in internal or external
circumstances, which makes it appropriate to assess momentary
affect. PANAS assumes a hierarchical structure (Watson and
Tellegen, 1985), with two broad factors capturing the valence of
affect (positive, negative). We calculated scale values for positive
and negative affect by averaging the respective items. In the pres-
ent study, the internal consistency of positive and negative affect
was satisfying (Cronbach’s Alpha positive affect: .82; negative
affect .71). Both scales were uncorrelated (r= .01, p> .05).
3.1.2. Results and discussion
As expected (H1), the primarily pragmatic phones (C/D) were
chosen significantly more often (81 of 118, 69%) than the primarily
hedonic phones (A/B, Chi square test for uniform distribution,
v
2
= 16.41, p< .001). Moreover (H2), participants who chose a pri-
marily pragmatic phone reported a significantly higher perceived
need for justification (M= 3.30) compared to those who chose a
primarily hedonic phone (M= 2.68, t(116) = 2.56, p<.05, d= .52).
However, even participants with a high need for justification
may have had a ‘‘hidden passion’’ for the hedonic product but sim-
ply could not choose accordingly. This dilemma – not choosing
what one prefers, because of justification – became apparent in po-
sitive affect after choice. As expected (H3), positive affect was more
pronounced for participants who chose a primarily hedonic phone
(M= 2.91) than for those who chose a primarily pragmatic phone
(M= 2.59, t(116) = 1.99, p< .05, d= .39). No significant differences
emerged for negative affect (hedonic: M= 1.32, pragmatic:
M= 1.41, t(116) = 1.07, p> .05, d= .19). However, one could argue
that reasoning about justification (which was more pronounced
among those who chose the pragmatic) rather than our assumed
implicit dissatisfaction with the chosen product may have damp-
ened positive affect, and then resulted in a spurious correlation be-
tween positive affect and choice. But this was not the case. There
was no significant correlation between perceived need for justifica-
tion and positive affect (r= .02, p> .05), and the significant correla-
tion between positive affect and hedonic choice (r= .18, p< .05)
remained stable when controlling for justification (partial r= .19,
p< .05). In other words, the reduction of positive affect among par-
ticipants who chose the pragmatic is not a consequence of justifi-
cation per se, but of the resulting choice. Participants who
‘‘privately’’ preferred a primarily hedonic phone but nevertheless
chose a pragmatic phone were simply not as happy about the prod-
uct as those who followed their ‘‘true ‘‘preferences.
3.2. Study 2: Affective reactions to an involuntary change
3.2.1. Hypotheses and procedure
Study 2 further explored the notion that people tend to choose
the pragmatic, because of justification, although they actually pre-
fer the hedonic. Again, the study was conducted online and a link
was distributed via students’ unions of German-speaking universi-
ties: 125 of 172 (73%) completed the whole survey and constituted
the final sample (N= 125, 73 female, mean age = 25 years,
min = 19, max = 52). The scenario was similar to Study 1. Partici-
pants were confronted with a hypothetical choice scenario which
required a tradeoff between a primarily hedonic and primarily
pragmatic mobile phone. More specifically, they were asked to
imagine having just renewed their mobile phone contract, which
allowed them to pick a complimentary phone. In the present study,
only two alternative phones were presented. Both were described
by a ‘‘test report’’ only, i.e., no pictures of phones were provided.
The ‘‘test report’’ summarized an expert team’s judgments on a
20-point scale on two pragmatic (‘‘practicality’’, ‘‘technology’’)
and two hedonic attributes (‘‘visual appearance’’, ‘‘innovative-
ness’’). In addition to the ratings, there was a short description of
each attribute, such as ‘‘Visual Appearance refers to issues such
as style, color and form’’. The primarily hedonic phone had a med-
ian rating of twelve (of 20) on the hedonic attributes and median
value of eight (of 20) on the pragmatic attributes. For the other, pri-
marily pragmatic phone, median ratings were reversed.
Participants made their choice (i.e., picked one phone out of two)
and were then asked to provide reasons for their choice, in an open
question on the subsequent web page. Subsequently, all partici-
pants were told that unfortunately, their original choice was no
longer available and that they would receive the other phone in-
stead. To assure that participants were aware of the characteristics
of this phone, we once again confronted them with the results of the
‘‘test report’’. Again, participants had to vividly imagine the situa-
tion of receiving the (here: non-chosen) phone and to rate their
affective experience with the help of the Positive and Negative Affect
Schedule (PANAS, Watson et al., 1988). In the present study, the
internal consistency of positive and negative affect was again satis-
fying (Cronbach’s Alpha positive affect: .83; negative affect .78).
Both scales were slightly correlated (r= .27, p< .01). However,
internal consistency clearly exceeded inter-scale correlation.
In accordance with the previous study, we expected a more fre-
quent choice of the primarily pragmatic phone compared to the
primarily hedonic phone (H1). Assuming that a considerable
number of participants will choose the pragmatic just because of
their need for justification, we expected different affective
responses to the involuntary change of phones. Participants who
S. Diefenbach, M. Hassenzahl / Interacting with Computers xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 5
Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
chose the primarily hedonic phone, based on a true desire, may be
truly disappointed about the change. But participants who chose
the primarily pragmatic phone, because of justification, may feel
more positive about the change. By the change of phones, they
may finally get what they desired in private, i.e., the primarily he-
donic phone. However, the change of phones is beyond their con-
trol, which circumvents justification. These different affective
reactions will result in a disordinal interaction between the chosen
product (primarily hedonic, primarily pragmatic) and the valence
of affect (positive, negative) on the intensity of affect (H2). We ex-
pected that for participants who changed from hedonic to prag-
matic, negative affect will outweigh positive affect (H3). In
contrast, for participants who changed from pragmatic to hedonic,
positive affect will outweigh negative affect (H4), even though they
did not receive the phone they had originally chosen.
3.2.2. Results and discussion
As expected (H1), we found a clear preference for the primarily
pragmatic phone: 103 of 125 participants (82%) made a primarily
pragmatic choice, Chi square test for uniform distribution,
v
2
= 52.48, p< .001.
A content analysis of participants’ reasons for choice showed
that – quite naturally – all participants mentioned the chosen
phones’ benefits (i.e., attributes with a high expert rating). About
half of the participants (54%) also mentioned attributes of the re-
jected phone, which were in general regarded as less important.
Interestingly, the general line of reasoning differed depending on
whether the choice was primarily hedonic or primarily pragmatic.
Participants with the primarily hedonic choice, mentioned and
‘‘admitted’’ that the pragmatic attribute values below average
could be a problem, which, however, they hoped to manage (e.g.,
‘‘I think I could rather adapt to usability drawbacks than to an ugly
appearance.’’). In contrast, participants who chose the primarily
pragmatic did not voice any doubts about the low hedonic attri-
bute values. A considerable part of those who chose the primarily
pragmatic product (41%) not only declared pragmatic attributes to
be more important but also actively discounted the hedonic (e.g., ‘‘I
don’t give a damn about beauty’’, ‘‘A mobile phone is an object of
utility...I don’t care for superfluous gimmicks!’’). However, we
suspect that this bold renunciation is rather a way to come to
terms with one’s own choice than a true detest of the hedonic.
In line with this reasoning, an analysis of variance with change
(from hedonic to pragmatic, from pragmatic to hedonic) as be-
tween-subjects factor, valence of affect (positive, negative) as with-
in-subjects factor and intensity of affect as dependent variable
revealed a significant, disordinal change xvalence of affect interac-
tion (H2), F(1, 123) = 7.93, p< .01, Eta
2
= .06, and no significant
main effects (see Fig. 2).
Simple effect tests revealed no significant difference between
positive and negative affect for participants who had to change
from hedonic to pragmatic (F< 1, see Fig. 2, left). This indicates
neutral rather than clearly negative affect. H3 was thus not con-
firmed. But as expected (H4), participants who changed from prag-
matic to hedonic reported a significantly higher intensity of
positive compared to negative affect (F(1, 123) = 22.25, p< .01,
see Fig. 2, right). Although they had to change an option they ini-
tially discounted, they still felt more positive than negative. This
indicates that the forced change was a welcome opportunity to re-
ceive what they actually desired. But given the free choice, they did
not choose what they expected to make them happy. This is in line
with Hsee and Hastie (2006), who obtained similar results and con-
sequently call into question people’s ability to make choices in
their own interest. Based on the present findings, we suggest that
people do not suffer from a lack of ability to identify the most sat-
isfying option. It is the need to justify their choice, which prevents
them from choosing according to their true interest.
3.3. Summary
In sum, while participants predominantly chose the primarily
pragmatic phone (Study 1 and Study 2), the prospect of receiving
a primarily hedonic mobile phone resulted in more positive affect
(Study 1 and Study 2) – even if one’s original choice was pragmatic,
and the change to the hedonic was forced (Study 2). While there
are certainly people who are ‘‘true’’ supporters of the primarily
pragmatic, at least some of the participants who seemingly favored
the primarily pragmatic, actually wanted the primarily hedonic.
Study 1 further revealed pragmatic choice to be accompanied by
a higher need for justification. This supports our notion that due
to the need for justification, people do not necessarily base their
choices on their ‘‘true’’ preferences (or better: desires).
4. Potential ways out of the hedonic dilemma
The first two studies demonstrated the existence and relevance
of the suggested Hedonic Dilemma in the context of interactive
products. The second set of studies extended these findings by fur-
ther exploring exemplary ways to reduce the effect of the dilemma.
Two strategies were employed. One manipulated the justifiability of
hedonic choices through additional information about the product
(Study 3). The other manipulated the need for justification through
variations in the choice context (Study 4).
4.1. Study 3: Legitimation of hedonic attributes
4.1.1. Hypotheses and procedure
The most straightforward way to solve the Hedonic Dilemma is
letting hedonic attributes appear more legitimate, and thus, en-
hance the justifiability of hedonic choice. In Study 3, we tested
the impact of an according manipulation. More specifically, we
compared choice rates between a predominantly hedonic and a
predominantly pragmatic product depending on the experimen-
tally induced justifiability of hedonic choice (low, high). We did
not manipulate the justifiability of pragmatic choice, since we ex-
pected no effects. Pragmatic choice is assumed to be justified per
se. There is no reason to assume any changes in choice behavior
depending on the justifiability of pragmatic choice. Accordingly,
Diefenbach and Hassenzahl (2008) found that a manipulation of
Fig. 2. Intensity of positive and negative affect as a function of change.
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Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
justifiability via ambiguous information about product attributes
did only enhance choice rates (compared to a control condition)
when it facilitated choosing a hedonic product, but not when it
facilitated choosing a pragmatic product.
The study was conducted online and a link was distributed via
the students’ unions of German-speaking universities. 178 of 205
(87%) individuals completed the survey and constituted the final
sample (N= 178, 104 female, mean age = 24, min = 19, max = 35).
Just like in Study 1, participants were asked to choose between a
predominantly hedonic and a predominantly pragmatic mobile
phone. Differences in hedonic quality were operationalized by dif-
ferences in beauty, presented through pictures of the phones.
Based on the pre-tested pictures from Study 1, the two phones
for choice were phone A (the most beautiful out of a set of ten)
and phone D (the least beautiful out of a set of ten, see Fig. 1). Dif-
ferences in pragmatic quality were operationalized by differences
in usability, verbally described by a ‘‘test report’’. In this ‘‘test re-
port’’, phone D was described as ‘‘very usable’’ and phone A as hav-
ing ‘‘some small usability problems’’. Moreover, both phones were
offering basic features, such as a calendar, a calculator, an alarm
and good speech and connection quality. Hence, phone A was pri-
marily hedonic and phone D primarily pragmatic. The justifiability
of hedonic choice (low, high) was manipulated through the refer-
ence to beauty in the test report. In the low justifiability of hedonic
choice condition, the test report was just concerned with all aspects
quoted so far. In the high justifiability of hedonic choice condition,
the test report also discussed the consequences of the two phones’
differences in beauty. More specifically, the pragmatic phone’s vi-
sual appearance was denoted as ‘‘out-dated and hardly appealing’’,
and the hedonic phone was described as ‘‘an eye-catcher, promis-
ing a great experience’’. Even if the two phones’ visual beauty was
directly perceivable, an external confirmation of one’s own impres-
sion was expected to enhance the justifiability of hedonic choice
and, thus, reduce the Hedonic Dilemma. Accordingly, we expected
a more frequent choice of the hedonic phone in high justifiability
of hedonic choice condition compared to the low justifiability of he-
donic choice condition (H1). Within the high justifiability of hedonic
choice condition, we expected a more frequent choice of the hedo-
nic over the pragmatic phone (H2). However, within a standard
choice situation, i.e., in the low justifiability of hedonic choice condi-
tion, we expected a more frequent choice of the pragmatic over the
hedonic phone (H3). While the reference to beauty in the test re-
ports was intended to enhance the justifiability of hedonic choice,
our intention was not to change the impression of the phones
themselves, i.e., the ‘‘experiential value’’ that participants assigned
to the phones. If the latter was the case, an enhanced number of
hedonic choices in the high compared to the low justifiability of he-
donic choice condition could be a priming effect rather than an ef-
fect of increased justifiability. To ascertain that this was not the
case, we surveyed participants’ expectations regarding the experi-
ential quality of the two phones. Participants indicated how good
they expected to feel with each phone on a five-point-scale, rang-
ing from ‘‘not at all’’ to ‘‘extremely.’’ Note, that unlike in the previ-
ous studies, where affect related to the hedonic and pragmatic
phone was compared between subjects, each participant was asked
for ratings on both phones (i.e., within subjects). We assumed the
perceived experiential value of the phones to be independent from
the justifiability manipulation, i.e., there will be no differences in
the respective experience ratings (for the hedonic phone, for the
pragmatic phone) between the low and the high justifiability of
choice condition (H4). However, we expected that participants will
give higher ratings to the chosen compared to the non-chosen
phone, i.e., participants choosing the hedonic phone will state to
feel better with the hedonic compared to the pragmatic phone,
and vice versa (H5). Finally, we were interested in whether the
experience ratings would turn out differently if surveyed before
participants knew they had to make a choice. We included the time
of rating as second experimental factor, without a specific hypoth-
esis. This led to a 2 2 between-subjects design, varying the justi-
fiability of hedonic choice (low, high) and the time of rating (before
choice, after choice). Participants were randomly assigned to one
of the four experimental conditions.
4.1.2. Results and discussion
As expected, hedonic choice was significantly more frequent in
the high justifiability of hedonic choice condition compared to the
low justifiability of hedonic choice condition, (H1, Chi square test
of independence,
v
2
= 4.93, p< .05, see Fig. 3). This increase of he-
donic choice indicated that the experimentally enhanced justifi-
ability encouraged participants to follow their true preference.
Accordingly, in the high justifiability of hedonic choice condition,
the hedonic phone was chosen more frequently than the pragmatic
(H2, Chi square test for uniform distribution,
v
2
= 15.43, p< .001,
see Fig. 3, right). In the low justifiability of hedonic choice condition,
there was a balanced ratio of pragmatic and hedonic choice,
although we actually had expected a frequent choice of the prag-
matic phone (Chi square test for uniform distribution,
v
2
= 1.06,
p> .05, see Fig. 3, left). H3 was thus not supported. A potential
explanation is that the tradeoff between hedonic and pragmatic
quality might have not appeared that strong to participants. This
could be due to the information on pragmatic quality by verbal
descriptions only. Compared to the information on pragmatic qual-
ity by numerical values (Study 1 and Study 2), the verbal descrip-
tions may have had already appeared as more ambiguous. Thus,
the less explicit tradeoff may have lead to a slightly enhanced jus-
tifiability of hedonic choice in the present study – even in the low
justifiability of hedonic choice condition. This explanation is in line
with the aforementioned study by Diefenbach and Hassenzahl
(2008), which revealed that people make use of ambiguous infor-
mation on product attributes to justify hedonic choice.
A2222 analysis of variance with the type of experience
rating as within-subjects factor (rating for the hedonic phone, rating
for the pragmatic phone), time of experience rating (before choice,
after choice), justifiability of hedonic choice (low, high), choice (hedo-
nic, pragmatic) as between-subjects factors, and experience rating as
dependent variable revealed no significant main effects. We found
no interaction between type of experience rating and justifiability of
Fig. 3. Hedonic and pragmatic choice rates as a function of justifiability of hedonic
choice.
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Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
hedonic choice (H4, F(1, 167) = .46, p> .05, Eta
2
= .003). Independent
of the way that hedonic attributes were discussed in the test report
(i.e., justifiability manipulation), experience ratings remained on a
similar level. This applied to the hedonic (low: M= 3.08, high:
M= 3.31) and to the pragmatic phone (low: M= 2.99, high:
M= 2.96). As expected, the reference to beauty did not alter the ex-
pected experiential value of the phones. Also the expected interac-
tion between type of experience rating and choice emerged (H5,
F(1, 167) = 74.82, p< .001, Eta
2
= .31). Simple effect tests revealed
that participants who chose the pragmatic phone gave significantly
higher ratings to the pragmatic (M= 3.54) compared to the hedonic
phone (M= 2.65, F(1, 167) = 30.48, p< .001). In contrast, partici-
pants who chose the hedonic phone gave significantly higher rat-
ings to the hedonic (M= 3.44) compared to the pragmatic phone
(M= 2.77, F(1, 167) = 53.28, p< .001). However, the reported
interaction effect was further qualified by a significant three-way
interaction between type of experience rating,choice and – addition-
ally – time of experience rating (before choice, after choice),
F(1, 167) = 4.45, p< .05, Eta
2
= .03. We calculated separate analyses
of variance for the before choice condition and the after choice con-
dition, to test the stability of the interaction effect between type of
experience rating and choice on the specification assumed in H5. In
both conditions, the interaction between type of experience rating
and choice was significant (before choice condition; F(1, 75) =
59.72, p< .001, Eta
2
= .44; after choice condition: F(1, 96) = 26.90,
p< .001, Eta
2
= .22). The respective simple effect tests confirmed
that participants reported the chosen phone as more appealing than
the non-chosen phone, irrespective of the time of experience rating.
Participants who chose the pragmatic phone gave higher ratings to
the pragmatic compared to the hedonic phone (before choice condi-
tion; F(1, 75) = 30.89, p< .001, see Fig. 4a, right; after choice condi-
tion: F(1, 96) = 6.96, p< .01, see Fig. 4b, right). Participants who
chose the hedonic phone gave higher ratings to the hedonic
compared to the pragmatic phone (before choice condition;
F(1, 75) = 30.12, p< .001, see Fig. 4a, left; after choice condition:
F(1, 96) = 25.14, p< .001, see Fig. 4b, left). H5 thus remained
supported.
However, the interaction graphs reveal a distinctive pattern of
ratings in the after choice condition. Here, the general preference
for the chosen phone was less pronounced among participants
who chose the pragmatic compared to participants who chose
the hedonic phone (this is also indicated by the smaller F-value re-
vealed by simple effects testing). There are two possible explana-
tions for this finding.
First, the affirmation of one’s prior choice through (higher)
experience ratings could reflect the need for justification associ-
ated with that choice. According to the classical phenomenon of
post-choice revaluation, people typically use a revaluation of the
chosen and a devaluation of non-chosen to make their choice ap-
pear more justified (Brehm, 1956). Participants who chose the he-
donic might be more prone to post-choice revaluation than
participants who chose the pragmatic, due to the per se lower jus-
tifiability of hedonic choice. However, the experimentally en-
hanced justifiability in the in the high justifiability of hedonic
choice condition should then reduce the need for post-choice reval-
uation. The fact that there is no interaction with justifiability of he-
donic choice thus rather speaks against this explanation. A second
explanation refers to the experience ratings given by participants
who chose the pragmatic phone. The considerable small difference
between experience ratings (for the chosen and the non-chosen
option) displays a low confidence of their choice, which might re-
flect their true expectations. After they had made their choice, they
might have realized that they actually were not convinced of the
experiential benefits of the chosen option, and rated in only some-
what higher than the rejected option. In this case, pragmatic
choices could have resulted from following norms (e.g., ‘‘be ra-
tional’’, ‘‘always take the pragmatic’’) rather than from true convic-
tion. Similar findings are known from consumer research. Amir and
Ariely (2007) demonstrated that people rely on rules rather than
anticipated consumption utility when making purchase decisions.
Hsee’s (1999) studies on prediction-decision inconsistencies
showed that post-choice experience ratings do not necessarily
match the choice one had just made before. Thus, choosing the
pragmatic might not always be a consequence of conscious reason-
ing but an automatic tendency, based on a deeply ingrained need
for rationality and justification.
4.2. Study 4: Hedonic choices as gratification
4.2.1. Hypotheses and procedure
Study 4 explored a further possibility to facilitate the justifiabil-
ity of hedonic choice: framing of the choice context. There are a
Fig. 4a. Experience ratings for the pragmatic and hedonic phone as a function of
choice in the before choice condition.
Fig. 4b. Experience ratings for the pragmatic and hedonic phone as a function of
choice in the after choice condition.
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Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
number of reported framing effects regarding hedonic and prag-
matic product choice (see Section 2.4). However, they often rely
on settings different from the situation typical for product acquisi-
tion, such as winning products in a raffle (e.g., Böhm and Pfister,
1996; O’Curry and Strahilevitz, 2000).
A useful approach for promoting interactive products could be
framing product acquisition as a gratification. The gratification
frame provides a ‘‘reason’’ for consumption and thus reduces the
general need for justification. Such a reduction in the need for justi-
fication is considered more relevant for hedonic than for pragmatic
products, since the latter do not lack justification anyway. In con-
trast, ‘‘unjustified’’ hedonic consumption (i.e., without a reason) is
assumed to be accompanied by negative affect and strong feelings
of guilt – even though empirical reports showed that the actual
pleasure derived from hedonic consumption does not depend on
whether there is a reason or not (Xu and Schwarz, 2009). Fortu-
nately, there are ways to attain a right for gratification (and thus,
hedonic consumption), for example, by preceding efforts (Kivetz
and Simonson, 2002). To ‘‘deserve’’ a hedonic product, people typ-
ically adopt a generous interpretation of what constitutes an ‘‘ef-
fort’’. Kivetz and Simonson (2002) demonstrated that the
preference for a hedonic option (‘‘a luxurious 1-h facial cosmetic
treatment’’, ‘‘a 1-h pampering Swedish or Sports massage’’) com-
pared to a pragmatic option (a voucher of the same monetary value
for the local grocery store) increased with the number of purchases
required before reward attainment in a customer loyalty program.
Purchase was obviously interpreted as ‘‘effort’’, and a high number
of purchases entailed the right for hedonic consumption. Sela and
colleagues (2009) further revealed that this effect is independent of
actual ‘‘effort’’, it solely depends on whether an activity is declared
to be ‘‘high effort’’ or not. Participants made more hedonic choices
when a previously solved calculation task was framed as ‘‘high ef-
fort’’ compared to when the same task was framed as ‘‘low effort’’.
Besides preceding efforts, other socially valued activities (e.g., per-
forming a charitable act) imply a right for gratification, and in turn,
hedonic choice (e.g., Strahilevitz and Myers, 1998). Khan and Dhar
(2006) showed that hedonic choices yet increased after a task
which only required fantasizing about being a helpful person, i.e.,
making a hypothetical choice between different jobs of community
service. Even thinking about social activities was sufficient to let
hedonic choice appear more justified. Based on these findings,
we assumed a gratification framing to reduce the need for justifica-
tion and, thus, encourage hedonic product choice also in the con-
text of interactive products.
We manipulated the need for justification (low, high) by differ-
ences in choice context (purchase framed as gratification, standard
purchase) and compared (hypothetical) purchase rates for a pre-
dominantly hedonic and a predominantly pragmatic product. The
predominant product character was realized as between-subjects
factor, so that the impact of justification on hedonic and pragmatic
product choice could be studied separately. Participants got only
one either predominantly hedonic or pragmatic offer, which they
could either accept (buy) or reject (not buy). This is an extension
of the previous studies, where a direct choice between hedonic
and pragmatic was required, which will reveal whether difficulties
to justify the hedonic are still an issue. Hence, we employed a 2 2
between-subjects design, varying the need for justification (low –
purchase framed as gratification, high – standard purchase) and
the product (hedonic, pragmatic). The study was conducted online
and a link was distributed via the students’ unions of German-
speaking universities: 133 of 158 (84%) completed the whole
survey and constituted the final sample. Participants (N= 133, 50
female, mean age = 24, min = 19, max = 34) were randomly
assigned to one of the four conditions. In all four conditions, partic-
ipants were presented with an advertisement for a laptop on sale
for 749instead of 999. They were asked to imagine that the
advertised laptop was superior to their old laptop in technical
specification. In addition, participants in the low need for justifica-
tion condition were told to imagine that ‘‘due to the enormous ef-
forts for their exams during the last weeks they deserved a
gratification’’. In the high need for justification condition, there
was no additional information on one’s personal situation. Based
on a manipulation introduced and pre-tested by Park and Mowen
(2007), the product (hedonic, pragmatic) was operationalized by
the main usage goals specified in the scenario. In the hedonic prod-
uct condition these were leisure activities such as chatting, listen-
ing to music and playing online games. In the pragmatic product
condition these were working tasks, such as writing reports, statis-
tical analyses or literature research. After having read the scenario,
participants were asked whether they would like to buy the laptop
or not.
We expected the factor need for justification, operationalized by
the gratification framing, to have no significant effect on pragmatic
purchase. Pragmatic purchases do not require further justification
since the product itself is enough of a reason. In contrast, buying a
hedonic product needs an additional reason to be justified. Here,
differences in the need for justification induced by the context will
be relevant. We thus assumed a differential effect of the factor need
for justification within the two product conditions. In the pragmatic
product condition, we expected no significant differences in pur-
chase rates between the low and the high need for justification con-
dition (H1). In the hedonic product condition, purchase rates will be
higher in the low compared to the high need for justification condi-
tion (H2).
4.2.2. Results and discussion
We first compared purchase rates between the two need for jus-
tification conditions to assess the general effectiveness of the ap-
plied gratification framing on purchase. Overall, the ratio of
purchases to non purchases was significantly higher (57% purchase
rate) in the low need for justification condition compared to the high
need for justification condition (39% purchase rate; Chi square test
of independence,
v
2
= 4.25, p< .05). However, separate analyses
within the two product conditions revealed a differential effect of
the factor need for justification. In the pragmatic product condition,
purchase rates were independent from the need for justification
(H1, Chi square test of independence,
v
2
= 0.63, p> .05, Fig. 5, left).
In the hedonic product condition, purchase rates varied depending
on the need for justification, i.e., purchase rates were higher in the
low compared to the high need for justification condition (H2, Chi
square test of independence,
v
2
= 4.30, p< .05, Fig. 5, right).
The differential effect of gratification framing once more dem-
onstrated the controversial nature of hedonic quality. Note that
in the present study, no direct trade-off between the hedonic and
pragmatic was required, since we studied hedonic and pragmatic
choice separately. Nevertheless, the need for justification, and thus,
the dilemma of the hedonic was still apparent. The decision for or
against pragmatic product purchase was independent from the
contextually induced need for justification. However, a good part
of participants could not convince themselves to buy the hedonic,
unless the gratification framing eased the need for justification.
This indicates that the primarily hedonic product was certainly
appealing to participants. But the link between the existing desire
and its reflection in choice rates is fragile and much more suscep-
tible to contextual influencing factors than for primarily pragmatic
products.
4.3. Summary
Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated that the dilemma of the hedonic
revealed in the first part (and earlier studies) can be reduced by
taking justification into account. We explored two different ways
S. Diefenbach, M. Hassenzahl / Interacting with Computers xxx (2011) xxx–xxx 9
Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
of reducing the dilemma of the hedonic. On the one hand, we
manipulated the need for justification, here, by creating a certain
choice frame (Study 4). On the other hand, we manipulated the jus-
tifiability of hedonic attributes, here, by a legitimization in given
product information (Study 3). Both studies established the sus-
ceptibility of revealed preferences, and emphasized the difficulties
of taking revealed preferences as inevitably reflecting true prefer-
ences. Our findings suggest justification to be one of the major fac-
tors moderating the relationship between true desires and
revealed preferences.
5. General discussion
The present studies confirmed the notion of a Hedonic Dilemma
in the context of HCI. At the heart of it lies a general need for jus-
tification, combined with the differing justifiability of hedonic ver-
sus pragmatic attributes in choice situations. Our studies revealed
a desire for hedonic attributes, even in interactive products, which
often are still understood as purely pragmatic ‘‘tools’’. But precisely
because of this predominance of pragmatic quality, people may
hesitate to give in to their desire for hedonic attributes – at least,
as long as the desire lacks justification. The first two studies
showed that the need to justify hedonic choice can prevent people
from following their true preferences. Study 1 showed that the
prospect of a primarily hedonic phone was related to more positive
affect, but the pragmatic phone was nevertheless chosen more fre-
quently, primarily by those with a high need for justification. In
Study 2, participants seemed almost glad about being forced to
change from the chosen, pragmatic to the non-chosen, hedonic
product. Study 3 and Study 4 further demonstrated that the impact
of justification in choice situations can be manipulated. More spe-
cifically, in Study 3, we enhanced the justifiability of hedonic attri-
butes by the explicit reference to those attributes in the product
information provided. This let hedonic attributes appear more
legitimate and, thus, worth being considered in choice. Finally,
Study 4 demonstrated that the choice frame can reduce the general
need for justification, here, by creating the feeling of having de-
served a gratification. Indeed, any purchase might be easier to jus-
tify when framed as gratification compared to a standard purchase.
However, our research showed that the manipulation of the need
for justification was especially effective for hedonic products,
whose acquisition is usually hard to justify.
Our findings shed light on the consequences of hedonic and
pragmatic attributes of interactive products in choice situations
and the mediating role of justification. A major strength of the
present research is the exploration of the Hedonic Dilemma in var-
ious settings, including different modes of preference elicitation,
different manipulations of the predominant product character,
and different product categories. We applied joint (Study 1, Study
2, Study 3) and separate choice settings (Study 4), that is, hedonic
and pragmatic choices were studied in direct as well as indirect
comparison. We also used a number of different operationaliza-
tions of hedonic and pragmatic quality. Hedonic quality was
manipulated by textual information on hedonic attributes pro-
vided in ‘‘test reports’’ (Study 2), by the usage goal (Study 4), and
by pre-tested pictures (Study 1 and Study 3). Pragmatic quality
was manipulated by ‘‘test reports’’ on different pragmatic attri-
butes, provided as numerical values (Study 1 and Study 2) or tex-
tual information (Study 3), and by the usage goal (Study 4). Though
we first focused on one category of interactive products (i.e., mo-
bile phones), we extended our research to another category (i.e.,
laptops) in Study 4. The continuous replication emphasized the
robustness of the phenomenon. Our studies demonstrated that
the effect is not tied to a specific setting, and thereby strengthened
the proposed theoretical mechanism (i.e., the need for justification
and the asymmetry in the justifiability of pragmatic and hedonic
attributes). The exploration of the Hedonic Dilemma was further
qualified by the inclusion of consequences for affect (Study 1 and
Study 2) and judgments on experiential quality (Study 3).
5.1. Limitations and future work
A potential limitation of our studies is their restriction to hypo-
thetical choice. Studying hypothetical choice is a common practice
in marketing research, and it has been shown repeatedly, for exam-
ple, in research on the Endowment Effect (Horowitz and McConnell,
2002), that there is no major difference between hypothetical and
real trading. However, we cannot rule out a difference between
hypothetical and real choice regarding the particular role of justi-
fication. Since hypothetical choices have no real consequences,
one could take them less seriously, which would lead to a general
decrease in the need for justification. If so, our findings actually
emphasize the robustness of effects. Any effect found in a hypo-
thetical choice situation should be even stronger when it is about
real choice. However, we admittedly cannot foresee how the (pre-
sumably higher) need for justification in real choice situations
might interact with other potential influencing factors. We thus
cannot be sure whether the phenomenon we revealed in hypothet-
ical choices scenarios will occur in the same way in real choice sit-
uations. We therefore seek to extend future research on the
Hedonic Dilemma to real choice situations.
Another critique, to some extent common to most experimental
work, is the rather artificial, ‘‘made’’ set-up. The limited informa-
tion about product attributes (i.e., stimuli) provided to the partic-
ipants did not mirror the potential complexity of real choice
situations. In real life, one may be better able to negotiate between
hedonic and pragmatic attributes. In fact, one might even get high
quality on both, at least, if money is no object. Furthermore, the
reductionist presentation of product information may not live up
to the holistic, all encompassing concept of User Experience.
Admittedly, we only captured a small excerpt of the various factors
that potentially influence users’ experience. As with most results
from experimental studies, the ecological validity of our findings
therefore remains an open question. Nevertheless, we believe the
experimental approach to be a valid starting point. The present
studies provided insight into a phenomenon hardly accessible
Fig. 5. Pragmatic and hedonic purchase rates as a function of need for justification.
10 S. Diefenbach, M. Hassenzahl / Interacting with Computers xxx (2011) xxx–xxx
Please cite this article in press as: Diefenbach, S., Hassenzahl, M. The dilemma of the hedonic – Appreciated, but hard to justify. Interact. Comput. (2011),
doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
through interviewing or field observation, because of its very nat-
ure. By the examination of consequences of variations in specific
factors (e.g., degree of hedonic quality, need for justification), we
revealed a mismatch between choice behavior and actual desires
that is not necessarily obvious, not even to the participants them-
selves. Based on the present findings, future research will include
more naturalistic and complex settings, product-centered case
studies or real-world enquiries into the tension between what
one wants and what one chooses.
Another potential drawback of the present studies is that they
did not explore the respective relevance of hedonic and pragmatic
attributes while actually using a product. But only the idea that
people will be happier with a primarily hedonic product while
product use turns the focus on the pragmatic in choice situations
into a dilemma of the hedonic. Participants’ self-reports of affect
in Study 1 and Study 2 already lent support to this assumptions.
However, future studies need to examine people’s feelings related
to actual product use later on. Besides laboratory studies, longitu-
dinal (field) studies will help to explore the specific consequences
of hedonic and pragmatic choice criteria for the evolution of the
user-product relation over time.
Finally, future studies will explore person variables that could
bear relevance for individuals’ general need for justification and/
or the perceived justifiability of hedonic choice. For example, the
cultural background or inter-individual differences in preferences
for intuitive versus deliberative decision strategies (Betsch, 2007)
may influence whether one considers a choice based on affect-la-
den, experiential, hedonic attributes as justified or not.
5.2. Conclusions
The major contribution of the present studies lies in an im-
proved understanding of the Hedonic Dilemma as a phenomenon
and justification as underlying factor. Besides, our studies have di-
rect practical implications for HCI research. First of all, we recom-
mend a certain degree of critical analysis towards studies that
ostensibly (and sometimes naively) suggest that people care pri-
marily for the pragmatic. Our studies demonstrated that these re-
sults could be biased by the ubiquitous power of justification.
Given that yet hypothetical choice, obtained in an anonymous on-
line survey, was affected by justification, this effect may be even
stronger for user research in face to face settings. Taking justifica-
tion into account, it is hardly surprising that studies regularly high-
light the importance of pragmatic issues and downplay the
hedonic (e.g., Helfenstein, 2010) – often meant as a slightly dismis-
sive gesture towards current UX approaches.
Aside from the problem of justification, particular research
methods or study procedures suggest a focus on pragmatic attri-
butes and could thus lead to a bias towards the pragmatic. Stan-
dard usability testing, for example, is a valuable procedure to
identify barriers to task fulfillment. But at the same time, typical
usability questionnaires and the mere task-oriented setting implic-
itly suggest narrowing the focus on pragmatic and disregarding he-
donic attributes. Accordingly, Hassenzahl and Ullrich (2007) found
that user comments critically depended on the usage mode, i.e.,
whether participants had to perform a certain task with the prod-
uct, or whether they were told ‘‘just explore and have fun with the
product’’. While the former focused on usability issues only, the
latter provided a holistic evaluation of the product. The important
point is that researchers must be aware of the respective focus that
comes along with particular research procedures. If they are only
interested in a products’ pragmatic quality, the task-oriented
usability testing approach is all fine – as long as they do not jump
to the wrong conclusion that users are only interested in a prod-
ucts’ pragmatic quality. An unbiased exploration of User Experi-
ence thus requires a research setting that does not take sides but
introduces hedonic and pragmatic quality as equally accepted
and justified, and leaves it to the participants to place their
emphasis.
Beyond research, study results biased by justification are a sub-
optimal basis for successful product design. Despite being built on
latest research findings, overly pragmatic products won’t be loved
by customers. Designers, in turn, won’t understand why users do
not appreciate what was built according to their ‘‘requirements’’,
and vendors will ruminate about their disloyal customers. We cer-
tainly recommend research-based design. However, companies
will be well advised to regularly challenge the basis of identified
‘‘customer needs’’. For example, any of the justification manipula-
tions specified above (e.g., creating a gratification frame, creating a
windfall situation, separate choice setting) could be a means to re-
duce the bias through justification in market studies. If set in con-
trast to a standard setting, this would even allow for a direct check
of the impact of justification: will revealed preferences remain the
same, or will hedonic products suddenly find more approval?
Actively taking justification into account is also advisable for
marketing campaigns: without the right frame, hedonic expenses
lack justification, and customers hesitate to pay for experiential
benefits. However, it is precisely this experiential value which
enables emotional attachment, brand bonding, and, in the long
run, a company’s success. Marketing campaigns could solve this
dilemma by creating a frame that reduces the problem of justifica-
tion (e.g., the gratification frame used in Study 4). Just like
chocolate and perfume are promoted as something one deserves,
like L’Oréal’s famous advertising slogan ‘‘Because I’m worth it’’,
similar mechanisms might work for advertising interactive
products, and provide a possible solution for the difficulties arising
from justification.
While appearing innocent at the first sight, the present research
revealed that hedonic attributes have a ‘‘dark side’’, too, i.e., their
seeming irrationality and the resulting distrust in choice situations.
We discussed the far-reaching consequences and challenges for
users, designers, researchers, and vendors, and showed potential
ways out of the dilemma of the hedonic. More important, our stud-
ies affirmed the irresistible attraction of the hedonic: whenever its
choice is just about justified, users go for it, attracted by its poten-
tial for rich (User) experiences.
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doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2011.07.002
... A more detailed understanding of discrete interruption events may be expected to benefit interruption management. Second, drawing on the literature on the impacts of utilitarian and hedonic value orientations on customer behavior and user experience (Diefenbach & Hassenzahl, 2011;Kakar, 2017), we considered individual interpretations of work-nonwork interruptions from this perspective. This provides new insight to better explain emotional reactions to an interruption compared to the work-nonwork framework alone. ...
... In the literature on human-computer interaction, researchers have typically used "pragmatic" as an equivalent concept to "utilitarian" (Diefenbach et al., 2014). Both utilitarian and hedonic values were found to be essential to define the user experience of a product (Diefenbach & Hassenzahl, 2011). ...
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The pervasive use of information and communication technology (ICT) typically causes constant interruptions. Digital interruptions permeating work-nonwork boundaries can lead to well-being problems, which are particularly common for knowledge workers. In this study, we examine the effect of work-nonwork interruptions on emotional experience to manage interruptions better and improve ICT users’ well-being. A pilot study was conducted using an experience sampling method (ESM) for ten days (216 observations) with an interview of eight participants, along with a larger ESM study lasting for a full week among 34 knowledge workers (999 observations). We examined the discrete effect of interruptions on positive and negative affect and explored their association with daily aggregated effects on emotional exhaustion. The results showed that variations in the sources and types of interruptions (extrinsic vs. intrinsic and work vs. nonwork, respectively) influenced value orientation, which in turn influenced emotional experience. More specifically, hedonic value was found to be a motivating factor and utilitarian value a hygiene factor in determining the emotional consequences of interruptions. As various degrees of both utilitarian and hedonic values are interwoven in an interruption, this value orientation explains the consequences of interruptions better than only considering work and nonwork features. This finding suggests that emotional exhaustion caused by work-nonwork conflict fundamentally refers to the utilitarian-hedonic conflict. The findings of this study extend the literature on the effect of work-nonwork interruptions on emotional experiences and provide guidelines on interruption management to maintain positive and avoid negative effects of digital interruptions.
... Bir diğer deyişle, hedonik özellikler pozitif deneyimin motivasyon kaynağı iken, pragmatik özellikler ürünün işlevine uygun kullanımına kaynak oluşturur (Hassenzahl, Diefenbach, & Göritz, 2010). Bu da kullanıcıların teknolojik bir ürünü kullanırken hem işlevsel hem de psikolojik ihtiyaçlarını gidermeyi beklediği sonucunu doğurur (Diefenbach & Hassenzahl, 2011). ...
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... In this case it is important to differentiate between Business to Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B). Concerning B2C a study of Sarah Diefenbach and Marc Hassenzahl [17] showed that a decision for a product with pragmatic quality, which "solves" an apparent "problem", is much easier to justify, compared to one, which offers beauty or novel ways of feeling close to each other. Unfortunately, this preference for the pragmatic in choice does not transfer to later use. ...
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Thesis
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Publisher Summary Aesthetics is viewed as a noninstrumental quality, forming an important aspect of product appeal and experience. However, empirical research addressing questions such as how to measure aesthetics; whether aesthetics can be reliably differentiated from other aspects, such as usability; how important is beauty as a part of experience; what is the value users attach to it; and what are “consequences” of beauty is sparse and results are inconsistent. Inconsistencies in findings can be at least partially resolved by distinguishing three different approaches to the study of beauty: normative, experiential, and judgmental. The normative approach defines particular descriptive attributes of the interactive product as expressing more or less beauty. The experiential approach focuses on all-embracing, holistic aesthetic experiences marked by an altered perception of one’s surroundings or a scene—a heightened sense for objects, persons, the environment, which creates and attaches new, yet unthought meaning to things. Finally, the judgmental approach is concerned with what users judge to be beautiful or not. This approach is foremost interested in the consistency of beauty judgments among individuals and how fast and easy those judgments are. In addition, it addresses the question of how beauty relates to other product attributes, such as novelty or usability. This chapter focuses on the judgmental approach to the study of aesthetics/beauty. It defines beauty in a way that lends itself to its empirical/quantitative study in the context of human-computer interaction. It reviews the research addressing correlates of beauty, primarily focusing on the relation between beauty and usability. In addition, it discusses in detail three consequences of beauty, namely beauty as added value, beauty as a way to accomplish self-referential goals, and, finally, beauty as a way to work better.