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Interrupted Consumption: Disrupting Adaptation to Hedonic Experiences

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Six studies demonstrate that interrupting a consumption experience can make pleasant experiences more enjoyable and unpleasant experiences more irritating, even though consumers avoid breaks in pleasant experiences and choose breaks in unpleasant experiences. Across a variety of hedonic experiences (e.g., listening to noises or songs, sitting in a massage chair), the authors observe that breaks disrupt hedonic adaptation and, as a result, intensify the subsequent experience.
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Journal of Marketing Research
Vol. XLV (December 2008), 654–664
654
© 2008, American Marketing Association
ISSN: 0022-2437 (print), 1547-7193 (electronic)
*Leif D. Nelson is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Rady School
of Management, University of California, San Diego (e-mail:
ldnelson@ucsd.edu). Tom Meyvis is Associate Professor of Marketing,
Stern School of Business, New York University (e-mail: tmeyvis@stern.
nyu.edu). The authors acknowledge the helpful comments of Chris
Janiszewski, Justin Kruger, and Anne-Laure Sellier on a previous draft of
the manuscript. Both authors contributed equally to the manuscript; author
order was determined randomly. Dilip Soman served as associate editor
for this article.
LEIF D. NELSON and TOM MEYVIS*
Six studies demonstrate that interrupting a consumption experience
can make pleasant experiences more enjoyable and unpleasant
experiences more irritating, even though consumers avoid breaks in
pleasant experiences and choose breaks in unpleasant experiences.
Across a variety of hedonic experiences (e.g., listening to noises or
songs, sitting in a massage chair), the authors observe that breaks
disrupt hedonic adaptation and, as a result, intensify the subsequent
experience.
Keywords
: adaptation, affective forecasting, well-being, consumption,
hedonic experiences
Interrupted Consumption: Disrupting
Adaptation to Hedonic Experiences
Imagine a patient who is about to undergo a painful
physical therapy session and is given the option to take a
short break in the middle of the session. Would the patient
accept the offer and break up the session, or would he or
she prefer to endure the entire session without interruption?
Regardless of the patient’s preference, would the break
make the session more painful or less painful? Now, imag-
ine a customer who is about to enjoy a relaxing massage
and can choose to take a short break in the middle. Would
the customer choose to break up the massage or to maintain
the continuous experience, and regardless of his or her pref-
erence, would the disruption make the massage more enjoy-
able or less enjoyable?
As these two scenarios illustrate, consumers often have
the opportunity to choose between interrupted or continu-
ous experiences. This article investigates the consequences
of taking breaks in affective experiences (i.e., when should
consumers take a break?), as well as consumers’ expecta-
tions for these consequences (i.e., when do consumers take
a break?). For example, would consumers enjoy the latest
three-hour Bollywood musical more if they watched it in a
theater that offers a brief intermission or in a theater that
shows it without interruption—and which theater would
they choose? Alternatively, if a person’s sweetheart coerces
him or her into attending a Goth-metal performance, would
the experience be less painful if the band takes a break in
the middle of its set or performs without interruption—and
which band would he or she end up choosing?
THE PRESCRIPTIVE PERSPECTIVE: HOW DO BREAKS
INFLUENCE HEDONIC EXPERIENCES?
This study addresses two independent theoretical ques-
tions: How does hedonic disruption actually influence
experience, and how do consumers think hedonic disrup-
tion will influence experience? Most important, we exam-
ine how breaking up an experience actually affects con-
sumers’ enjoyment of this experience. To assess this effect,
we rely on two critical assumptions: (1) that consumers
adapt to many experiences and (2) that breaks disrupt this
adaptation process. Together, these assumptions imply that
breaks will intensify affective experiences. Therefore, we
propose that within certain boundaries, consumers should
insert breaks in positive experiences but not in negative
experiences.
To understand how breaks influence consumers’ affective
experiences, we first need to consider how subjective expe-
riences change over time. Over the course of an experience,
affective intensity can either increase (i.e., sensitization) or
decrease (i.e., adaptation). Whereas sensitization often
occurs for complex stimuli (e.g., high-quality wines), in
many domains, adaptation seems to be the norm (for a
review, see Frederick and Loewenstein 1999). People adapt
surprisingly quickly and completely to a variety of positive
and negative experiences, ranging from the buzz of a com-
puter hard drive to extreme windfalls or calamities. Previ-
ous research has shown that people adapt to repeated con-
sumption of their preferred ice cream (Kahneman and Snell
1990), increases in income (Easterlin 1995), failure to
Interrupted Consumption 655
achieve tenure (Gilbert et al. 1998), solitary confinement
(Suedfeld et al. 1982), and, to some extent, even extreme
and life-altering events, such as winning the lottery or
becoming a paraplegic after a severe car accident (Brick-
man, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman 1978).
In each of these situations, the subjective intensity of the
experience decreases over time as a result of either basic
sensory processes (e.g., sensory-specific satiety) or com-
plex psychological mechanisms (e.g., coping). In addition
to the overall intensity reduction, adaptation creates a
downward trend in positive experiences and an upward
trend in negative experiences, patterns that strongly influ-
ence overall subjective intensity (Ariely and Zauberman
2000, 2003). We argue that inserting a break in the experi-
ence will disrupt these adaptive processes. Because adapta-
tion results from prolonged exposure, disrupting exposure
should reduce adaptation. Furthermore, this reduction in
adaptation will intensify the experience following the break
(relative to an uninterrupted experience). In short, con-
sumption experiences that are characterized by adaptation
will become more intense when breaks are inserted.
Although this reasoning suggests that people should
break up pleasant experiences but not unpleasant ones, this
recommendation necessarily requires some caveats. For
example, if an unpleasant experience is sufficiently aversive
(i.e., very intense or very prolonged), the experience may
need to be interrupted to provide people with the opportu-
nity to recover. Similarly, some positive events are primar-
ily enjoyed in the gestalt (e.g., films, sports events) and
may be best experienced continuously. We further discuss
these potential boundaries of our predictions in the “Gen-
eral Discussion” section.
THE DESCRIPTIVE PERSPECTIVE: CONSUMERS’
FORECASTS AND PREFERENCES
Another objective is to examine whether and when
people prefer to break up hedonic experiences. Whether
consumers choose to insert a break in an affective experi-
ence depends on their beliefs about how the break will
affect their enjoyment. As prior research has shown, people
are quite poor at predicting how their enjoyment of an
experience will evolve over time (Loewenstein and Schkade
1999; Wilson and Gilbert 2003). In particular, people have
trouble predicting hedonic adaptation. Although people
show substantial variation in intuitions about adaptation or
sensitization to different stimuli (Kahneman and Snell
1990), in general, they tend to underestimate adaptation
(Loewenstein and Frederick 1997). Indeed, people are more
likely to predict sensitization rather than adaptation for
ongoing, continuous experiences (e.g., loud noises, a last-
ing headache), exactly the type of stimuli that we study
herein (Kahneman and Snell 1990; Snell, Gibbs, and Varey
1995). Similarly, people often overestimate the lasting
influence of an event on their overall happiness (i.e., the
impact bias; Gilbert et al. 1998). For example, assistant
professors tend to overestimate the effect of the tenure deci-
sion on their future happiness (Gilbert et al. 1998), whereas
prisoners tend to underestimate adaptation to solitary con-
finement (Suedfeld et al. 1982).
In summary, people do not hold a uniform belief in adap-
tation, and some evidence indicates that people may even
intuit sensitization rather than adaptation. Therefore, we
1Note that this simple heuristic assumes some degree of myopia on the
part of the decision maker. We assume that the decision maker will put
greater emphasis on the start of the break (stopping the experience) than
on what happens after the break (restarting the experience).
predict that consumers will fail to anticipate their adapta-
tion to many consumption experiences and thus will not
expect breaks to intensify these experiences by disrupting
adaptation. Instead, we propose that consumers will rely on
the simple semantic intuition that a broken-up experience is
a weakened experience. That is, consumers will rely on a
simple decision rule: Stopping a good experience is bad,
and stopping a bad experience is good.1As a result, they
will prefer to break up negative experiences but not positive
experiences. In other words, we argue that consumers’ pref-
erences will neither maximize their enjoyment nor mini-
mize their suffering. As such, the traditional adage of the
service industry, “the customer is always right,” may not
apply to decisions about structuring pleasant or unpleasant
experiences, for which the customer may turn out to be
wrong.
If these predictions hold, managers may need to structure
service experiences differently depending on whether they
aim to maximize actual customer enjoyment or initial con-
sumer appeal. If the therapists in the aforementioned sce-
narios want to enhance their customers’ enjoyment, the
physical therapist should not offer the opportunity to take a
break (because the customers would choose it but feel
worse), whereas the massage therapist should build the
break into the massage schedule (because the customers
would not choose it but feel better if they did). However, if
a movie theater wants to increase its appeal to moviegoers,
it should screen the movie without intermission (even
though the audience would enjoy the movie less).
The studies we report empirically test our conjecture that
breaks tend to intensify hedonic experiences, even when
consumers hold the opposite intuition. However, before
examining the actual impact of breaks on hedonic experi-
ences, we examined people’s intuitions about this impact
by presenting them with some hypothetical choices and
vignettes. A preference for breaking up negative experi-
ences but not positive experiences would support our
assumption that people tend to regard broken-up experi-
ences as weakened experiences.
In a first study, undergraduate students (n = 28) imagined
that they would be separated from their romantic partner for
a long period but could choose any two consecutive weeks
during this period to be together with their partner. Partici-
pants strongly preferred weeks in the middle of the period
rather than weeks in the beginning or at the end, indicating
a preference for breaking up this negative experience (86%;
χ2= 14.29, p< .001). Furthermore, when participants were
subsequently asked to forecast the experience over time,
fewer than one-third showed the pattern of decreasing
intensity consistent with adaptation. Thus, most participants
failed to anticipate adaptation to this negative experience,
and most wanted to disrupt it (for methodological details
for all studies in the article, see the Web Appendix at http://
www.marketingpower.com/jmrdec08).
In a second study, the opposite pattern emerged for a
positive experience. Undergraduate students (n = 39) imag-
ined a summer working in the south of France, which
afforded four days of vacation in Saint-Tropez. A signifi-
656 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, DECEMBER 2008
Ta b l e 1
PREFERENCE FOR BREAKING UP EACH OF 15 DIFFERENT
EXPERIENCES
Type of Experience Percentage Preferring a Break
Positive Experiences
First-class flight 5% (6 of 119)***
Listening to great music 8% (10 of 119)***
Going on vacation 14% (17 of 119)***
Receiving a foot massage 15% (18 of 119)***
Watching a movie 16% (19 of 119)***
Eating ice cream 29% (35 of 119)***
Generally pleasant experience 14% (17 of 119)***
Negative Experiences
Waiting in line 36% (43 of 119)**
Dentist visit 40% (47 of 119)*
Irritating noise 69% (82 of 119)***
Holding hand in cold water 74% (88 of 119)***
Introductory marketing class 75% (89 of 119)***
Smelling a nasty odor 76% (90 of 119)***
Painful headache 79% (94 of 119)***
Generally unpleasant experience 72% (86 of 119)***
*p< .05.
**p< .01.
***p< .001.
Notes: For each experience, we compare the observed proportions to
50%.
cant majority (90%; χ2= 24.64, p< .001) preferred to take
the four days of vacation consecutively, indicating a reluc-
tance to break up this positive experience.
A third investigation compared similar positive and nega-
tive experiences. Two groups of students (n = 138) consid-
ered the prospect of either a pleasant massage or a session
of painful physical therapy and reported whether they
would prefer a break in this experience. As we expected,
whereas most participants wanted a break in the physical
therapy (63%, or 42 of 67; χ2= 4.31, p= .038), most
avoided a break in the massage (28%, or 20 of 71; χ2=
13.54, p< .001).
A final investigation asked a group of undergraduate stu-
dents (n = 119) whether they would want a break in a series
of positive (e.g., listening to pleasant music) and negative
(e.g., smelling a nasty odor) experiences. As Table 1 shows,
for all but two of the experiences, participants preferred
continuous positive experiences and disrupted negative
experiences. Furthermore, participants who did not expect
to adapt to positive experiences showed a stronger reluc-
tance to break up these experiences than those who did
expect adaptation (F(1, 116) = 5.15, p= .025; based on an
index of the seven positive events). Conversely, participants
who did not expect to adapt to negative experiences showed
a stronger preference for breaking up these experiences
than those who did expect adaptation (F(1, 116) = 22.21,
p< .001; based on an index of the eight negative events).
These scenario studies support our prediction that people
want to break up negative experiences but do not want to
break up positive experiences. There may be many reasons
for this pattern of preferences, including the anticipated dis-
ruption of sensitization (rather than adaptation), an over-
estimation of the need for coping resources, or myopic
preference for stopping unpleasant experiences and contin-
uing pleasant ones. Our objective is not to distinguish
between these different reasons (and we expect that there
are many) but rather to document these intuitions so that
they can be compared with the actual effect of disrupting
hedonic experiences. This actual effect of hedonic disrup-
tion is the focus of the remainder of this article.
We propose that people adapt to a wide variety of experi-
ences and that breaks disrupt this adaptation process and
thus keep the experience at a high level of intensity. We
begin by directly testing our assumption that inserting a
break intensifies the subsequent experience (Studies 1 and
2). This should increase both the irritation with a negative
stimulus and the enjoyment of a positive stimulus. We then
attempt to rule out hedonic contrast effects as an alternative
to the adaptation-disruption hypothesis (Studies 3 and 4).
Finally, we track participants’ ongoing experience to better
understand the mechanism by which breaks affect overall
enjoyment and irritation (Studies 5 and 6).
STUDY 1: DISRUPTION OF ADAPTATION TO A
NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE
The scenario studies we described previously indicate
that people often prefer to break up negative but not posi-
tive experiences. However, we argue that breaks disrupt
people’s adaptation to the experience and therefore make
positive experiences more enjoyable and negative experi-
ences more unpleasant. We first test this for a negative
experience:
H1: Inserting a short break in an unpleasant experience disrupts
adaptation and makes the experience following the break
more aversive, though people expect that it will become
less aversive.
In three between-subjects conditions, we measured partici-
pants’ irritation with a five-second fragment of a noise that
was presented in isolation, at the end of a longer experi-
ence, or immediately following a break.
Method
One hundred forty undergraduate students participated in
a study examining the evaluation of auditory stimuli. Par-
ticipants were seated at a computer workstation, asked to
put on headphones, and told that they would be listening to
a brief sound clip of a vacuum cleaner. There were three
groups of participants. The first group listened to only 5
seconds of the vacuum cleaner; the second group listened to
40 seconds; and the final group listened to 40 seconds, fol-
lowed by a 5-second break, and then another 5 seconds of
the vacuum cleaner. Immediately after this experience, par-
ticipants answered a question about the last 5 seconds of
the stimulus. To avoid possible scaling effects, we asked
participants to compare the vacuum cleaner noise to
another irritating noise. Therefore, we presented partici-
pants with a 5-second sample of a drilling noise, after
which they reported their preference between the two
sounds on a 201-point sliding scale from –100 (“definitely
prefer the vacuum”) to +100 (“definitely prefer the drill”).
Higher numbers reflect a more aversive vacuum noise
experience.
Because it was important that participants understood
and complied with all elements of the procedure, we took a
priori measures to eliminate those who did not by using a
previously validated procedure that was modified for this
task (Oppenheimer, Meyvis, and Davidenko 2006; see also
Simmons and Nelson 2006, Study 12). At the end of the
Interrupted Consumption 657
Figure 1
BREAKING UP AN IRRITATING NOISE DISRUPTS ADAPTATION,
MAKING THE EXPERIENCE MORE AVERSIVE
Notes: Study 1 examines irritation as predicted by forecasters and as
reported by experiencers (with standard error). Both measures have been
rescaled to a 50-point scale; higher numbers reflect more irritation. Given
the difference in the initial measures, absolute differences in ratings for
forecasters versus experiencers cannot be interpreted.
session, participants briefly read about the importance of
following instructions and were asked to ignore a scale on
the screen and instead click on a red square at the top of the
screen. Although most participants clicked on the red
square, 14 people instead clicked on the unlabeled scale
and were removed from subsequent analyses.
Results and Discussion
Forecast. In addition to this procedure, we asked a sepa-
rate group of participants (n = 40) to make predictions
about the effects of the manipulation. All the participants
listened to a 5-second sample of the vacuum cleaner, rated
it on a 76-point scale of irritation (0 = “a little irritating,”
and 75 = “incredibly irritating”), and then estimated how
irritating they would find the same sample in each of the
other two conditions. Consistent with our initial studies,
participants expected sensitization rather than adaptation:
They expected the 40-second experience to increase the
irritation relative to the 5-second sample (M = 42.07 versus
26.07; t(39) = 4.86, p< .001). Furthermore, participants
had some belief that the 5-second break would reduce their
irritation with the stimulus relative to the continuous
experience (M = 42.07 versus 35.92; t(39) = 1.68, p= .10).
In summary, participants forecasted that the stimulus would
become more irritating with prolonged exposure and that
this increase would be partially mitigated by adding a
break. These forecasts are the direct opposite of our
hypothesis, which we test next.
Experience. We expected that people would adapt to the
noise and therefore find it less aversive after 40 seconds
than after only 5 seconds. Furthermore, we hypothesized
that breaking up the experience would disrupt this adapta-
tion process and reestablish the aversiveness of the stimu-
lus. We tested this prediction with a planned contrast, com-
paring evaluations by participants in the 40-second
experience with evaluations in the two remaining condi-
tions. This proved to be a reliable contrast because people
experiencing the noise continuously for 40 seconds judged
the last 5 seconds to be less aversive (M = –39.49) than
people experiencing just the first 5 seconds (M = –14.98) or
people experiencing the 5 seconds after a break (M =
–16.44; t(123) = 2.10, p= .039; see Figure 1). These results
indicate that though people want to break up negative expe-
riences, this is not always a wise decision. Whereas listen-
ing to the noise for an extended period made the noise less
aversive, inserting a break made the noise just as aversive
as it had been initially, suggesting that the break disrupted
the adaptation process.
STUDY 2: DISRUPTION OF ADAPTATION TO A
POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Study 1 demonstrated that breaks can disrupt adaptation
to a negative stimulus. In Study 2, we shift to the positive
domain and examine whether disruption of adaptation can
make a positive experience more pleasant:
H2: Inserting a short break in a positive experience makes the
experience more pleasant, though people expect that it will
become less pleasant.
In this study, participants either experienced an uninter-
rupted massage or had the middle part of the massage
replaced with a 20-second break. In addition, whereas par-
ticipants in Study 1 were only asked to rate the last 5 sec-
onds of the experience, participants in this study provided
evaluations of the entire experience, thus enabling us to
draw more general inferences about the normative implica-
tions of inserting the break. We predicted that though
people would prefer not to interrupt the massage, inserting
a break in the middle of the experience would actually
enhance their enjoyment of the massage.
Method
Forty-nine undergraduate students were seated at a com-
puter in a chair outfitted with a massage cushion and were
told that they would be testing the cushion. They first rated
a 5-second sample of the massage and then answered five
questions about their general massage chair preferences.
Most were irrelevant filler questions (“Do you prefer heat-
ing in a massage cushion?”), but one question asked partici-
pants whether they would prefer a continuous massage or a
massage with a brief break in the middle. Participants were
then randomly assigned to either the break or the continu-
ous condition. In the continuous condition, participants
learned that they would experience the massage continu-
ously for 3 minutes, whereas those in the break condition
learned that they would be experiencing 80 seconds of mas-
sage, 20 seconds of nothing, and then 80 more seconds of
massage. The experimenter then started the massage cush-
ion and turned the cushion off and on according to the
condition.
Note that in the break condition, we replace 20 seconds
of massage with a 20-second break. Alternatively, we could
have inserted the 20-second break in the experience, thus
lengthening the entire experience. Each of these strategies
represents a conceptual trade-off. The replacement strategy
keeps the total length of the experience constant across con-
ditions but results in a shorter massage in the break condi-
tion, whereas an insertion strategy would have kept the
658 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, DECEMBER 2008
2We detected unusually high variance on these measures. Therefore, we
removed outliers on each measure that were more than 2.5 standard devia-
tions from the mean. As a result, there are slight variations in the degrees
of freedom in each analysis. In addition, to control for preexperience dif-
ferences in the enjoyment of the massage cushion, we included the 5-
second sample rating as a covariate in our analysis.
length of the massage constant but would have resulted in a
longer total experience in the break condition. To ensure
that our results are not limited by the specific strategy used
for inserting the break, we use different procedures across
experiments, relying on the replacement strategy in two
studies (Studies 2 and 5) and the insertion strategy in the
remaining studies (Studies 3, 4, and 6). Furthermore, in
Studies 3 and 4, we also add a break before the stimulus in
the continuous condition, thus ensuring that the total
experience is of equal length in both conditions. The results
are consistent across the different studies and across all
instantiations of the manipulation.
After the massage, participants first reported how much
they had enjoyed the experience using a 9-point scale (1 =
“not pleasant,” and 9 = “extremely pleasant”). Next, they
used a 201-point sliding scale to compare their experience
to listening to 3 minutes of their favorite song (–100 =
“definitely prefer the massage,” and +100 = “definitely pre-
fer the song”). This preference measure was added to avoid
scaling effects. Participants then reported how much they
would be willing to pay to repeat the experience and how
much they would be willing to pay to buy the massage
cushion. Finally, participants completed the same screening
measure that was used in Study 1.
Results and Discussion
Forecast. Before conducting any analyses, we removed 8
participants who incorrectly responded to the screening
measure, leaving us with a sample of 41. We then examined
participants’ choices between continuous and interrupted
massage experiences, which we measured after the 5-
second sample but before the 3-minute experience. As we
expected, most participants preferred the continuous experi-
ence (73%; χ2= 8.80, p= .003). However, although people
predicted that a break would lessen enjoyment, postexperi-
ence evaluations showed the exact opposite result.2
Experience. Compared with participants who experi-
enced the continuous massage, those who had a break in
their experience rated their experience as more pleasant
(M = 7.05 versus 6.05; F(1, 37) = 4.59, p= .039), were less
likely to prefer listening to their favorite song instead (M =
4.65 versus 32.33; F(1, 38) = 4.20, p= .047), were willing
to pay more than twice as much to repeat the experience
(M = $3.71 versus $1.27; F(1, 33) = 6.69, p= .014), and
were willing to pay almost twice as much to purchase the
massage cushion (M = $26.59 versus $14.41; F(1, 36) =
5.76, p= .022). Although most participants expected that
inserting a break would detract from the massage, the
results confirmed our hypothesis that the break does
enhance the experience.
Why do breaks improve positive experiences and worsen
negative experiences? Although we argue that breaks inten-
sify experiences by disrupting adaptation, the effects may
be due to hedonic contrast: The vacuum cleaner is unques-
tionably irritating, but it may seem even more irritating
when contrasted with the welcome silence of the break.
3We did not ask about the negative-break condition, because this condi-
tion would not offer any additional insight into beliefs about disruption of
adaptation (which both other break conditions test) or hedonic contrast
(which the positive-break condition tests). The same logic applies to the
forecasting study we report in Study 4.
Consistent with this possibility, contrast effects play a large
role in the reporting of subjective well-being (Tversky and
Griffin 1991). Thus, although recent research has failed to
find contrast effects in hedonic consumption (Novemsky
and Ratner 2003), hedonic contrast effects are both plausi-
ble and intuitive. The next two studies clarify the role of
contrast effects by systematically varying break valence in
either a negative (Study 3) or a positive (Study 4) experi-
ence. If the intensifying effect of the break is driven by dis-
ruption of adaptation (rather than hedonic contrast), the
effect should persist regardless of the valence of the break:
H3: Disrupting a negative experience makes the experience
more aversive, regardless of the valence of the disruption.
H4: Disrupting a positive experience makes the experience
more pleasant, regardless of the valence of the disruption.
STUDY 3: DIFFERENT BREAKS IN A NEGATIVE
EXPERIENCE
Method
One hundred seventy-eight undergraduate students were
randomly assigned to one of four conditions. Participants in
the continuous condition listened to 20 seconds of silence,
followed by 180 seconds of vacuum noise. In the remaining
three conditions, participants also listened to 180 seconds
of vacuum noise, but they were told that after 160 seconds,
this experience would be interrupted for 20 seconds. This
interruption consisted of 20 seconds of silence in the
neutral-break condition, classical piano music (Glenn
Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations) in the
positive-break condition, and 20 seconds of a child practic-
ing scales on a violin in the negative-break condition.
After the experience, all participants evaluated the over-
all experience on two measures; they rated their enjoyment
of the overall experience (on a nine-point scale anchored by
“not unpleasant” and “extremely unpleasant”) and their
relative preference between listening to the vacuum cleaner
noise and listening to a drilling noise (on the 201-point
scale used in the previous studies). Finally, participants
completed the same screening measure used in the previous
studies (which led to the elimination of 16 participants).
Results and Discussion
Forecast. A separate group of undergraduate students
(n = 42) forecasted responses to the critical conditions of
this experiment. Participants listened to a 5-second sample
of the noise and then read descriptions of the continuous,
positive-break, and neutral-break conditions.3Participants
reported that adding a neutral break (M = 50.0) would not
be any worse than the continuous experience (M = 50.9)
but that the positive break would slightly improve the
experience (M = 45.1; t(41) = 1.98, p= .054). With these
forecasts in mind, we considered the actual impact of the
different breaks on the experience.
Experience. Because the two evaluation measures were
reliably correlated, we standardized and combined them
into a single index (higher numbers indicated more irrita-
Interrupted Consumption 659
Figure 2
BREAKS INCREASE AFFECTIVE INTENSITY REGARDLESS OF
BREAK VALENCE
Notes: Studies 3 and 4 examine retrospective evaluations of intensity.
The top panel depicts standardized irritation ratings (from Study 3), and
the bottom panel depicts standardized enjoyment ratings (from Study 4).
Any disruption made both the positive and the negative stimuli more
intense than the continuous experience.
tion). Because all three breaks (silence, piano music, and
violin practice) should disrupt adaptation to the vacuum
noise, the adaptation-disruption account predicts that the
three break conditions will produce more negative judg-
ments than the continuous experience. Consistent with H3,
a planned contrast confirmed that participants who had a
continuous exposure to the vacuum cleaner rated the overall
experience as less irritating than participants in the positive,
neutral-, or negative-break conditions (t(157) = 2.27, p=
.025; see Figure 2).
A break, regardless of its valence, worsened the overall
experience, despite people’s intuitions to the opposite.
Because breaks of completely different valence produced
similar effects, these findings cannot be explained by hedo-
nic contrast. In Study 4, we use a similar design to investi-
gate the influence of breaks in the positive domain.
STUDY 4: DIFFERENT BREAKS IN A POSITIVE
EXPERIENCE
Method
Study 4 investigated possible contrast effects by inserting
pleasant or aversive breaks in an enjoyable song. One hun-
dred seventy-eight undergraduate students were assigned to
one of four conditions: a positive-break, a negative-break, a
neutral-break, and a continuous control condition. All par-
ticipants first listened to a 5-second sample of the song,
“Shin-Sekai (featuring Rino)” by DJ Krush, and rated their
liking of the song on a 51-point scale from –25 (“strongly
dislike”) to 25 (“strongly like”). We chose this song, a
Japanese rap song, because we assumed that it would be
both unfamiliar and well liked by the participants. We were
partly correct. Although students were not familiar with the
song, many of them disliked it. Because our central objec-
tive was to study the disruption of a positive experience, we
removed anyone who indicated that they disliked the song
sample, which left us with a final sample of 109 people.
After rating the song sample, participants were told what
experience to expect and started listening to the song. In the
continuous condition, participants first experienced 20 sec-
onds of silence, followed by 180 seconds of the complete
song. In the remaining three conditions, participants also
listened to the complete song, but after 160 seconds, the
song was interrupted for 20 seconds. This interruption con-
sisted of 20 seconds of silence in the neutral-break condi-
tion, 20 seconds from “Egyptian Reggae” (a 1978 Top 40
hit by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers) in the
positive-break condition, and 20 seconds of particularly
irritating guitar feedback (sampled from the intro to “The
Friend Catcher” by the Australian punk band The Birthday
Party) in the negative-break condition.
After the experience, participants evaluated it on a nine-
point scale (anchored by “not at all pleasant” and “very
pleasant”) and stated their relative preference between
repeating the song and reading a magazine on a 201-point
scale (higher numbers indicated greater preference for the
magazine). Finally, participants completed the same screen-
ing measure used in the previous studies (which led to the
elimination of 13 participants).
Results and Discussion
Forecast. As in Study 3, we first asked a separate group
of undergraduate students to predict how much they would
like the song in the continuous condition, the neutral-break
condition, and the negative-break condition. After listening
to the same 5-second sample as participants in the main
study, participants (n = 67; after we eliminated anyone who
disliked the sample) predicted their enjoyment on a 51-
point scale from –25 (“really dislike it”) to 25 (“really like
it”). Forecasters could not have been clearer in their predic-
tions because they thought that they would like the song
much more in the continuous condition (M = 7.94) than in
either the neutral-break condition (M = –2.48; t(66) = 6.32,
p< .001) or the negative-break condition (M = –8.76;
t(66) = 8.49, p< .001). Although forecasters clearly pre-
dicted that a break would have a negative influence on their
experience, these predictions turned out to be the exact
opposite of our findings.
Experience. As in the previous study, the two measures
were highly correlated, and therefore we standardized and
combined them into a composite measure. We expected that
any disruption would enhance the enjoyment of the song,
regardless of the valence of the disruption. The correspon-
ding planned contrast comparing the continuous condition
with the other conditions confirmed our predictions. Par-
ticipants who continuously listened to the song found the
experience less enjoyable than those in the break conditions
(t(89) = 2.33, p= .024; see Figure 2).
660 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, DECEMBER 2008
Studies 3 and 4 show that breaks, regardless of valence,
intensify both positive and negative experiences, arguing
against a hedonic contrast account for our findings. Our
final two studies sought direct evidence of the disruption
of adaptation process by collecting online experience
measures. Study 5 used the same negative stimulus used in
Studies 1 and 3, and for Study 6, we developed a new posi-
tive stimulus designed to be sensitive to fluctuations in
enjoyment.
STUDY 5: ONLINE MEASURES OF A NEGATIVE
EXPERIENCE
Hedonics research occasionally employs online experi-
ence measures to better identify the progression of affect
over time. For example, at a broad temporal level, Riis and
colleagues (2005) use an experience sampling methodology
to compare the overall well-being of hemodialysis patients
with healthy controls, whereas at a more narrow temporal
level, Kahneman and colleagues (1993) use online measures
to identify the effect of peak and end experiences on sum-
mary evaluations. Similarly, consumer researchers have used
online measures, such as dial-turning instruments, to contin-
uously monitor consumers’ affective responses to magazine
pictures and television commercials (Pham et al. 2001).
In Studies 5 and 6, we used online measures to test our
prediction that breaks intensify hedonic experiences by dis-
rupting the adaptation process:
H5: Breaking up a negative experience disrupts adaptation to
the experience and makes the overall experience more
aversive.
H6: Breaking up a positive experience disrupts adaptation to
the experience and makes the overall experience more
pleasant.
Method
Sixty-six undergraduate students first rated a 5-second
sample of the vacuum cleaner stimulus. In the context of
four unrelated questions, participants indicated whether
they would prefer a break in the middle of the experience
and then were randomly assigned to either the break or the
continuous condition. Participants in the continuous condi-
tion listened to the vacuum noise without interruption for
180 seconds, whereas participants in the break condition
listened to the vacuum noise for 80 seconds, followed by 20
seconds of silence, and then 80 more seconds of the vac-
uum noise. During the experience, participants reported
their current level of irritation 5, 30, 55, 80, 105, 130, and
155 seconds into the experience; the samples taken at 55
seconds and 105 seconds represented the critical samples
immediately before and immediately after the break. Par-
ticipants reported their irritation on a 101-point slider scale
anchored by 0 (“not irritated at all”) and 100 (“extremely
irritated”). Finally, all participants completed the same
screening question as was used in the previous studies
(which led to the elimination of 5 participants). After the
experience, participants reported their overall evaluation
of the experience on a 9-point scale (anchored by “not
unpleasant” and “extremely unpleasant”) and their relative
preference between listening to the vacuum cleaner noise
and listening to a drilling noise (on the 201-point scale used
in the previous studies).
Results and Discussion
As in our previous studies with negative experiences, in
prospect, most participants (79%) preferred to break up the
experience (binomial Z = 4.48, p< .001), but again, the
break worsened the experience. Compared with participants
in the continuous condition, those in the break condition
reported that the experience was more irritating (M = 7.88
versus 6.42; t(59) = 2.27, p= .027) and indicated a greater
preference for switching to a different noise (M = 13.08
versus –16.83; t(59) = 2.03, p= .046). As in our previous
studies, the break intensified the aversive experience.
In addition, we wanted to examine whether people in the
continuous condition were indeed adapting to the stimulus.
To test this hypothesis, we compared ratings from the first
online sample (at 5 seconds) with those from the seventh
and final sample (155 seconds). As we predicted, partici-
pants who had continuously experienced the vacuum
cleaner noise reported more irritation at the first sample
than at the last sample (M = 76.3 versus 64.3; F(1, 31) =
5.85, p= .022). There was no similar difference for partici-
pants whose experience had been disrupted by the break
(M = 72.2 versus 70.2; F(23) = .24, p= .63).
Furthermore, we wanted to use the online measures to
assess the direct influence of the break. To do so, we con-
sidered the ratings provided immediately before and imme-
diately after the break. As we predicted, inserting a break
reliably affected the difference between these two ratings
(F(1, 55) = 5.73, p= .020). Subsequent analyses revealed
that though the experience had stabilized in the continuous
condition (M = 70.3 versus 69.8; t(31) < 1), the experience
got reliably worse in the break condition (M = 71.1 versus
80.7; t(24) = 2.42, p= .023), consistent with disruption of
adaptation.
Considered together, these findings indicate that insert-
ing the break in the experience disrupted participants’ adap-
tation to the noise and made the experience more aversive.
In Study 6, we switched to a pleasant experience to test for
disruption of adaptation in the positive domain. Further-
more, to address the possible concern that the occasional
reminders to evaluate disrupt the experience in all condi-
tions, we collected continuous rather than discrete evalua-
tions in this study.
STUDY 6: ONLINE MEASURES OF A POSITIVE
EXPERIENCE
The objective of our final study was to examine the dis-
ruption of adaptation to a positive stimulus using online
measures. To achieve this, we generated a novel stimulus to
enable us to observe evidence of adaptation or sensitization
across conditions, as well as the direct effects of disruption
between conditions.
Method
We created an enjoyable stimulus with limited variabil-
ity, thus making it easier to isolate the effect of time pro-
gression on participants’ online responses. To this end, we
constructed short songs composed of looped fragments
from other well-liked songs. We first selected five songs
that we judged to be generally enjoyable and covered a
diverse set of styles in popular music (“Lose Yourself” by
Eminem, “I’m Your Villain” by Franz Ferdinand, “My
Sharona” by The Knack, “Can’t Get You out of My Head”
Interrupted Consumption 661
Figure 3
INTERRUPTING A LOOPED SONG WITH GUITAR FEEDBACK
DISRUPTS ADAPTATION, MAKING THE SONG MORE
ENJOYABLE
Notes: Study 6 examines online measures of enjoyment of the looped
song as a function of time and condition. Segment A depicts the first 50
seconds of the experience, which was identical for both groups. Segment
B depicts seconds 51–60 for participants in the break condition (experi-
encing aversive guitar feedback). Segment C depicts the final 10 seconds
of the looped song: seconds 51–60 for participants in the continuous con-
dition and seconds 61–70 for participants in the break condition. The two
unanticipated conditions depict data from a subsequent study mentioned in
the “Results and Discussion” section of Study 6.
by Kylie Minogue, and “Sometimes” by Michael I. Nor-
ton). We then looped 5- to 10-second segments of the songs
to create a new 60-second song. The new songs featured
seamless transitions, creating a song stimulus that was
enjoyable but did not vary much over time.
Fifty-two undergraduate students first rated each of the
five brief segments on a 51-point scale anchored by –25
(“really dislike it”) and 25 (“really like it”). They were then
told that they would be listening to a 60-second song con-
structed by looping the segment of their choice. After
selecting their preferred song segment, participants were
informed of their upcoming experience and were asked to
provide continuous online evaluations of their enjoyment
using a sliding scale anchored by 0 (“not enjoying it at all”)
and 100 (“enjoying it tremendously”). Participants in the
continuous condition then listened to the 60-second song
without interruption. Participants in the break condition lis-
tened to the first 50 seconds of the song, followed by 10
seconds of irritating guitar feedback (identical to the sound
used in Study 4), and finally the last 10 seconds of the
song. After the song ended, participants reported their lik-
ing of the looped song on a 9-point scale (anchored by
“hated it” and “loved it”) and indicated how much they
would be willing to spend to see the artist in concert.
Finally, all participants completed the same screening ques-
tion as was used in the previous studies (which led to the
elimination of 3 participants).
Results and Discussion
Forecast. Do people intuit that a break in the looped song
will improve their experience? A separate group of partici-
pants (n = 82) listened to the five song samples and selected
their favorite. They then reported whether they would pre-
fer listening to a 60-second loop of that fragment either
with or without interruption by 10 seconds of guitar feed-
back. People believed that the break would worsen the
experience; 99% (81 of 82) of the participants said that they
would prefer to listen to the continuous song (binomial Z =
8.83, p< .001). Despite this nearly universal intuition,
experience data indicated that irritating guitar feedback
made the song more enjoyable.
Experience. We first considered the retrospective evalua-
tions. Consistent with our hypothesis, when the song was
disrupted, people enjoyed it more (M = 3.74 versus 4.96;
t(47) = 2.66, p= .011) and were willing to spend more than
twice as much to attend a concert by the artist (M = $48.23
versus $22.52; t(47) = 2.32, p= .025). Despite strong intu-
itions to the opposite, adding a break improved this positive
experience.
Online measures mirrored these findings. We first tested
for adaptation. For every participant, we calculated the cor-
relation between enjoyment ratings and the elapsed time of
the song for the first 50 seconds of the song (the portion of
the song that was identical for participants in both condi-
tions). Adaptation would manifest as a negative correlation
because people would be deriving less pleasure with every
additional second that they listened to the song. After we
computed correlations for each participant, we transformed
these measures into a Fisher’s Z-score and compared those
means with zero. Consistent with our hypothesis, the aver-
aged correlations showed strong evidence of adaptation for
participants in both the continuous condition (average Z =
–72; t(22) = –4.41, p< .001) and the break condition (aver-
age Z = –.54; t(25) = 4.39, p< .001; for a visual representa-
tion of these slopes, see Figure 3, Segment A).
We further hypothesized that the break would disrupt
adaptation and increase enjoyment of the song following
the break. Consistent with this prediction, people enjoyed
the final 10 seconds of the song more when it followed a
break than at the end of the continuous experience (M =
37.9 versus 64.0; t(47) = 4.33, p< .001; see Figure 3, Seg-
ment C). Furthermore, we predicted that the differences in
the postexperience summary evaluations would result from
changes in song enjoyment after the break. To test this pos-
sibility, we tested whether ratings of the final 10 seconds of
the song mediated the effect of the manipulation on final
evaluations. Following the procedure that Kenny, Kashy,
and Bolger (1998) outline, we first replicated our previous
analyses, showing that breaks improved the summary
evaluations of the song (β= .36, t = 2.66, p= .011) as well
as the enjoyment of the final 10 seconds (β= .53, t = 4.33,
p< .001). Next, when we simultaneously regressed the
summary evaluation on both factors, it was reliably pre-
dicted by the enjoyment of the final 10 seconds (β= .47, t =
3.19, p= .003) but was no longer influenced by the break
condition (β= .11, t = .75, p= .45). Furthermore, including
the mediator resulted in a reliable drop in conditional effect
size (β= .36 versus .11; Z = 2.62, p= .009). These findings
662 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, DECEMBER 2008
strongly suggest that people adapted to the positive stimu-
lus of the looped song, that the break disrupted this adapta-
tion and improved the postbreak experience, and that this,
in turn, enhanced the retrospective evaluations.
However, a possible concern is that the online measure of
enjoyment also differed before the break. Perhaps people
simply enjoy the song more when they know it will be
interrupted by an irritating noise. We addressed this alter-
native account in two ways. First, we compared the 10
seconds following the break (Seconds 51–60) with the 10
seconds preceding the break (Seconds 41–50). As we
expected, the difference between the two conditions was
significantly more pronounced in the 10 seconds after the
break than in the 10 seconds before the break (F(1, 47) =
4.79, p= .034), indicating that the disruptive impact of the
break exceeded any effect of its anticipation.
As a second, more thorough test of this alternative
account, we collected additional data from a separate group
of participants (n = 86), who were not told which condition
they had been assigned to and therefore had both identical
experiences and identical expectations for the first 50 sec-
onds of the experience (all participants were informed
about the two possible conditions without being told the
condition to which they had been assigned). Approximately
half of these participants then listened to the guitar feed-
back for 10 seconds, followed by the final 10 seconds of
the song, whereas the remainder only listened to the final
10 seconds of the song. As we predicted, participants who
heard the guitar feedback again enjoyed the final 10 sec-
onds more than participants who heard the continuous song
(M = 55.0 versus 42.7; t(84) = 2.42, p= .018; see Figure 3).
This additional experiment, in conjunction with the addi-
tional analysis we reported previously, confirms our thesis
that breaks intensify hedonic experiences by altering the
experience following the break. Nevertheless, anticipation
of the break may also influence affective experiences, a
possibility we discuss subsequently.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
Consumers prefer to break up negative experiences,
while keeping positive experiences intact. As we reviewed
previously and as the forecasters for each of the studies
confirmed, this preference pattern is remarkably consistent
across a variety of situations. Yet, despite such strong con-
sensus, our studies suggest that people are not predicting
correctly. Inserting a break makes a vacuum cleaner more
irritating but a massage more enjoyable (Studies 1 and 2).
This was not due to contrast effects, because both pleasant
and aversive disruptions made a noise more aversive and a
song more enjoyable (Studies 3 and 4). Instead, we propose
that breaks intensify experiences by disrupting adaptation,
an account supported by the experience sampling techniques
used in the final two studies. Although participants who con-
tinuously listened to a vacuum noise or an enjoyable song
adapted to these stimuli over time, inserting a break dis-
rupted this adaptation, making the vacuum noise more irri-
tating and the song more enjoyable (Studies 5 and 6).
Theoretical Extensions
Why does a break make a massage feel better and a vac-
uum cleaner sound worse? Our studies indicate that breaks
disrupt adaptation and intensify the experience following
the break. However, consumers’ experience could also be
influenced by what happens during the break itself as well
as by the initial anticipation of the break.
What are consumers thinking during the break? Do they
reflect on the elapsed experience, do they anticipate the
experience to come, or do their minds drift to domains
irrelevant to the experiment itself? People certainly look
forward to future experiences and derive (dis)utility from
savoring or dreading this anticipated experience (Loewen-
stein 1987). Therefore, breaks might intensify experiences
by providing an opportunity to savor or dread the restarting
of the experience. An additional study tested this possibility
by asking undergraduate participants (n = 107) to listen to a
vacuum noise either continuously for 3 minutes or inter-
rupted by a 20-second silent break (replacing the noise).
Most important, half of those who received the break were
given a brief entertaining story to read during the break. If
dread experienced during the break substantially con-
tributes to the effect, distracting people during the break by
providing the story should reduce the effect by making it
more difficult to elaborate on the return of the noise (or to
reflect on the previously experienced noise). However, par-
ticipants listening to the continuous vacuum noise judged it
as less aversive (M = –.34) than participants who received
the silent break, regardless of whether they received the
engaging story (M = .38) or not (M = –.04; t(104) = 1.87,
p= .064). Although consumers’ feelings during the break
may influence experienced enjoyment, they do not seem to
cause the effects observed in our experiments.
Aside from affecting consumers’ experience during the
interruption and after the interruption, the break may also
change consumers’ experience before the interruption, that
is, through anticipation. It is possible that people savor the
break in the negative experience and dread the break in the
positive experience. However, the online affect measures of
Study 6 show the opposite results: People enjoyed the song
more when anticipating the unpleasant disruption (M =
70.9 versus 58.2; t(47) = 2.83, p= .007; see Figure 3, Seg-
ment A). Although the additional data confirmed that our
results were mostly driven by the period following the
break, anticipation of the break enhanced the intensity of
the experience before the break. A possible explanation for
this is that people contrast the current experience with the
expected relief or frustration offered by the break. In sum-
mary, although these alternative influences of the break
cannot account for our observed results, both factors could
contribute to the overall experience and thus strengthen our
assertion that breaks can make pleasant experiences more
enjoyable and unpleasant experiences less tolerable.
Boundary Conditions
Experiences. People cannot adapt to everything. For
example, despite beliefs to the contrary, people have trouble
adapting to life near a highway (Weinstein 1982). How is
highway noise different from the vacuum cleaner noise?
Variation may be one important factor. Unlike the monoto-
nous vacuum cleaner, highway traffic can be highly
variable: Loud trucks alternate with quieter cars, and rush
hour traffic alternates with midday lulls. Perhaps the person
living next to the highway chronically experiences the
“break” condition rather than the “continuous” condition, a
possibility that may help reconcile the differences within
Interrupted Consumption 663
the same model. People have the ability to adapt to mild
noises if they are presented continuously, but they cannot
adapt, or perhaps even sensitize, to disrupted experiences.
In addition, it is likely the case that some experiences are
so intense that people simply cannot adapt to them. For
example, it can take many years before people fully adapt to
the negative affect associated with losing a spouse (Carr et
al. 2001). Therefore, the effects we document are probably
restricted to events of modest intensity. Whereas the mild
irritation of waiting in line at a cash register would indeed
be exacerbated by a disruption, the more extreme pain of
medical intervention might require breaks for the coping
process to be effective. Is the same true for positive experi-
ences? Compared with a likable pop song, are people less
likely to adapt to more intensely positive experiences, such
as consuming a glass of fine Californian wine or a sweet
Belgian chocolate truffle? Perhaps these comparatively
intense experiences are enjoyed most fully when they are
consumed as a whole. For example, when describing our
hypotheses to massage therapists, we are told that an enjoy-
able massage would be worse with a break because the con-
tinuity is an integral part of the massage experience. Yet, in
contrast to masseurs’ intuitions, inserting a break increased
enjoyment of a massage (Study 2) and enjoyment of a pop
song (Study 4), another experience that is typically viewed
as an experience that should be enjoyed as a complete unit.
Another, more straightforward factor is the duration of
the break. Across our studies, we use breaks that varied in
length, but all could be considered very brief. To some
extent, this bolsters the strength of our findings because
even a minimal disruption appears to change hedonic con-
sumption. However, it also qualifies our findings because as
the break increases in length, it constitutes an increasingly
large proportion of the overall experience. When a pleasant
trip to Saint-Tropez is disrupted by a brief professional
meeting, the vacation might actually get better, but if the
trip instead is disrupted by ten years of incarceration, the
break will likely be unappreciated (even if the return to the
vacation would be rather enjoyable).
On the other end of the spectrum, we can ask whether
any disruption is sufficient to alter adaptation. It may be the
case, for example, that the experience does not need to be
completely interrupted but rather simply made to feel dis-
continuous. Instead of inserting a brief break in a stimulus,
perhaps merely changing the stimulus slightly (e.g., switch-
ing a massage chair from a Shiatsu function to a Swedish
function) is sufficient to improve the experience without
ever interrupting the stimulus itself.
Choices. In terms of the choice to break up an experi-
ence, as we document throughout the article, in general,
people prefer to disrupt negative experiences and not to dis-
rupt positive experiences. Nevertheless, this belies an intui-
tion that people would rather complete some negative expe-
riences as quickly as possible (e.g., receiving a painful
injection). Consumers may indeed prefer not to break up an
aversive experience if it is sufficiently short so that they can
simply “get it over with.” Although consumers may feel the
need to break up unpleasant experiences because they over-
estimate the amount of resources they will need to cope
with the experience (e.g., because they anticipate sensitiza-
tion rather than adaptation), they should not feel this need
for sufficiently short negative experiences.
In the positive domain, participants’ reluctance to break
up pleasant experiences contrasts with Linville and Fis-
cher’s (1991) finding that people like to segregate positive
experiences so that they can maximally enjoy their impact.
These conflicting findings may be attributable to differ-
ences in the type of experiences studied. Whereas Linville
and Fischer studied when people prefer to combine two
separate, meaningful events (e.g., positive feedback for two
classes), we study when people prefer to break up single,
homogeneous experiences (see, e.g., the list of positive
experiences in Table 1). This raises the possibility that
when breaking up a pleasant experience will result in two
separate, meaningful events, consumers may prefer to break
up that experience. For example, consumers may not want
to break up a 40-minute massage with a 5-minute break, but
they may prefer to take a break between a back massage
and a foot massage.
Extension, Implication, and Application
If a disruption can make a massage chair more enjoyable
and a vacuum cleaner more irritating, can the same reason-
ing be applied to a broader conceptualization of happiness
and well-being? If we disrupt an ongoing affective state,
will it prolong or intensify that emotion? Some prior
research has suggested that general happiness can indeed be
partially predicted by changes in circumstances and activi-
ties (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade 2005). However,
not all changes are created equal. Whereas a circumstantial
change (e.g., a new roommate) might produce only rela-
tively short-term changes in well-being, volitional changes
(e.g., a new exercise regime) can have long-lasting effects
by mitigating the process of adaptation (Sheldon and
Lyubomirsky 2006). It may be the case, then, that people
can enhance their well-being by restructuring their con-
sumption of daily life, more specifically, by actively reduc-
ing or enhancing consumption monotony (e.g., varying the
massage schedule, regulating trips to the dentist).
Even if an application to the management of subjective
well-being remains speculative, more traditional marketing
applications seem to be more straightforward. For example,
consider a salesperson providing a demonstration of a
pleasant product or service experience. Rather than provid-
ing consumers with one extended test drive or one pro-
longed demonstration of a massage chair or a comfortable
waterbed, it may be more effective to provide customers
with a sequence of interrupted product experiences. Each
interruption disrupts the adaptation process and enables
consumers to experience again the thrill of the initial
experience.
For the management of actual service experiences, the
implications are somewhat more complicated. If a manager
is mostly concerned about the initial appeal of a pleasant
experience, it is advisable not to provide a break in the
experience (e.g., show the movie without intermission), but
if he or she is trying to maximize consumer enjoyment, it
would be sensible to insert short breaks (e.g., insert several
pauses when serving the chef’s tasting menu). A similar
reasoning can be applied to unpleasant experiences. Many
service experiences either are mostly unpleasant (e.g.,
medical procedures) or have a nontrivial unpleasant compo-
nent (e.g., waiting on the tarmac for a flight to take off). In
these situations, interrupting the unpleasant experience may
664 JOURNAL OF MARKETING RESEARCH, DECEMBER 2008
increase consumers’ irritation, even though it would ini-
tially seem desirable to them. Indeed, despite consumers’
preferences, it may be ill-advised to offer patients the
opportunity to take a break in a moderately unpleasant
medical procedure or to offer airline passengers the oppor-
tunity to move about the cabin for five minutes during a
half-hour delay.
Finally, another marketing question is, What would hap-
pen if the consumer can choose to insert or skip the breaks
during the experience rather than committing to the breaks
in advance (as in the current studies)? Consider a person
sitting in the massage chair. If the person is given the
option to turn off the chair for 30 seconds at any time,
would he or she ever exercise that choice? The possibility
seems both remote in prospect (people do not think that
breaks will improve positive experiences) and even less
likely in the online experience in which, even with extreme
adaptation, the break will always be less enjoyable than the
massage itself. The same largely goes for negative experi-
ences, in which the consumer is unlikely to forgo a chance
to take a break, even if he or she were to observe that the
experience was getting progressively less aversive. In other
words, consumers’ myopia would likely prevent them from
improving their experience by disrupting the ongoing
adaptation.
This adaptation blind spot implies that external agents
may have the ability to improve consumers’ experience bet-
ter than they can themselves. Perhaps the thoughtful
masseuse would maximize customer enjoyment by insert-
ing breaks in the massage, even though that would go
against the immediate wishes of the customer. Conversely,
customers who are informed of the break in advance may
choose to go to another, more monotonous masseuse.
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