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When it comes to spending disposable income, experiential purchases tend to make people happier than material purchases (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). But why are experiences more satisfying? We propose that the evaluation of experiences tends to be less comparative than that of material possessions, such that potentially invidious comparisons have less impact on satisfaction with experiences than with material possessions. Support for this contention was obtained in 8 studies. We found that participants were less satisfied with their material purchases because they were more likely to ruminate about unchosen options (Study 1); that participants tended to maximize when selecting material goods and satisfice when selecting experiences (Study 2); that participants examined unchosen material purchases more than unchosen experiential purchases (Study 3); and that, relative to experiences, participants' satisfaction with their material possessions was undermined more by comparisons to other available options (Studies 4 and 5A), to the same option at a different price (Studies 5B and 6), and to the purchases of other individuals (Study 5C). Our results suggest that experiential purchase decisions are easier to make and more conducive to well-being.
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The Relative Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases
Travis J. Carter and Thomas Gilovich
Cornell University
When it comes to spending disposable income, experiential purchases tend to make people happier than
material purchases (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). But why are experiences more satisfying? We
propose that the evaluation of experiences tends to be less comparative than that of material possessions,
such that potentially invidious comparisons have less impact on satisfaction with experiences than with
material possessions. Support for this contention was obtained in 8 studies. We found that participants
were less satisfied with their material purchases because they were more likely to ruminate about
unchosen options (Study 1); that participants tended to maximize when selecting material goods and
satisfice when selecting experiences (Study 2); that participants examined unchosen material purchases
more than unchosen experiential purchases (Study 3); and that, relative to experiences, participants’
satisfaction with their material possessions was undermined more by comparisons to other available
options (Studies 4 and 5A), to the same option at a different price (Studies 5B and 6), and to the purchases
of other individuals (Study 5C). Our results suggest that experiential purchase decisions are easier to
make and more conducive to well-being.
Keywords: experiential purchases, material purchases, materialism, happiness, consumer behavior
Imagine that you were growing up in the Bay Area of California
a couple of generations ago, back when it was truly the Golden
State. There would be no shortage of appealing ways to spend your
time. A quick drive to the coast for waves, hiking in the nearby
mountains, picking cherries or apricots in the orchards that have
now given way to Apple and Google headquarters. Baseball,
tennis, and outdoor basketball games that could be played with
little concern about foul weather.
Would the presence of all these options lead to a paradox of
choice, whereby a large choice set leads to decision stress and
relative dissatisfaction with the option chosen (Schwartz, 2004)?
Intuitively, it does not seem that it would. The same kids who
might agonize over which candy bar or soda to buy after engaging
in one of these activities might decide on the activity itself with
little difficulty. Is this a general phenomenon or something unique
to that time and place? Do people typically find it easier to choose
between experiences than possessions? Are people more inclined
to maximize when choosing possessions and satisfice when choos-
ing experiences? The research reported here addresses these very
questions.
There is at least one completely uninteresting reason why the
choice between spending a day at the beach, on the ball field, or in
the mountains tends not to be terribly stressful: What isn’t chosen
one day can be chosen the next. Hiking in the mountains Monday
does not preclude playing tennis later in the week. Note that this is
also true of candy bars and soda. Having a Three Musketeers one
day doesn’t prevent one from enjoying a Mounds Bar the next.
This is not the case, however, for many other material possessions.
For most people, buying a couch, a lawnmower, or an overcoat
means they won’t be in the market for another one for quite some
time.
Even with this difference between experiences and posses-
sions held constant, however, we maintain that choosing be-
tween experiences is often easier than choosing between mate-
rial possessions and that the troublesome effect of having
abundant options is less troublesome for experiences than it is
for possessions. This may be one reason, in turn, why people
tend to derive more enduring satisfaction from their experiential
purchases than their material purchases (Van Boven & Gilov-
ich, 2003). We base this contention on the proposition that
experiences tend to be “consumed” and evaluated less compar-
atively than possessions. To be sure, the evaluation of nearly all
stimuli is comparative (Gilbert, Giesler, & Morris, 1995), but
some evaluations are more comparison-based than others. Just
as happy people are less affected by threatening social compar-
isons than their less cheerful peers (Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1997;
see also Lyubomirsky & Ross, 1999), the enjoyment of some
purchases is less affected by comparisons with other available
options than others. We maintain that the enjoyment one derives
from an experiential purchase may be less affected by compar-
ison to other experiences one might have pursued than the
enjoyment one derives from a material possession is affected by
other possessions one might have acquired. For example, know-
ing about the features available on other cell phones is likely to
influence one’s satisfaction with one’s own phone more than
knowing about the bungalows available on other tropical
Travis J. Carter and Thomas Gilovich, Department of Psychology,
Cornell University.
This article is based on portions of Travis J. Carter’s doctoral disserta-
tion.
This research was supported by Research Grant SES0542486 from the
National Science Foundation. We thank Dennis Regan for comments on an
earlier version of this article, and Christina Hung, Catherine Lee, and Sarah
Thompson for their help collecting data.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Travis J.
Carter, Department of Psychology, Cornell University, 211 Uris Hall,
Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail: tjc38@cornell.edu or tdg1@cornell.edu
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2010 American Psychological Association
2010, Vol. 98, No. 1, 146–159 0022-3514/10/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0017145
146
beaches is likely to influence one’s satisfaction with one’s own
tropical bungalow.
Why might the hedonic value derived from experiences tend to
be less comparison-based than the hedonic value derived from
material possessions? One reason is that the very material nature of
possessions makes them easier to compare in the here and now.
Someone in the market for a wristwatch can hold two watches side
by side, readily compare their aesthetics and features (even try on
both simultaneously), and come to a conclusion about which is
preferable (Zhang & Markman, 2001; see also Hsee, Loewenstein,
Blount, & Bazerman, 1999; Hsee & Zhang, 2004). Comparing two
potential experiences is typically more difficult. Imagine, for in-
stance, that you’re trying to decide between two vacation pack-
ages. You could lay out the pamphlets for the two vacations to
compare them, but the comparison will be remote and difficult. To
be sure, it is not hard to imagine what it would be like to ski the
powder in Vail or ride the waves in Fiji. But it is not possible to
actually be in both places at once, and so any such comparisons are
mere forecasts, not tangible evaluations.
Also, not only are experiences harder to compare than posses-
sions prospectively, with implications for how the choices are
made, they are also harder to compare retrospectively, with impli-
cations for how much regret they elicit (Gilovich & Medvec,
1995). As many theorists have noted, the likelihood and intensity
of regret depends on the ability to compare the option chosen with
options foregone (Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Loomes & Sugden,
1982; Roese, 2005; Sugden, 1985). Because it is often relatively
easy to compare a possession one has with a possession one might
have had, material purchases may be more susceptible to post-
choice regret. No matter which wristwatch one buys, even if it is
entirely satisfactory, it can still be compared to one in a store
display— encouraging counterfactual thoughts about what it would
be like with their positions reversed. After returning from vacation,
in contrast, it is not so easy to compare a hypothetical Vail ski run
with the waves actually ridden in Fiji.
But there is a third reason why the enjoyment of experiences is
often less comparative than the enjoyment of possessions, one that
we believe is most important and one that we pursue in the
research reported below. We propose that even when comparisons
are noted between the experience one had and an experience one
might have had, they have less hedonic impact than analogous
comparisons between actual and potential possessions. Finding out
that there is an even better restaurant (at the same price) than the
one at which you dined can be troubling, but not as troubling as
finding out that there is an even better MP3 player than the one you
just bought (at the same price).
There is some existing research suggesting that this is the case.
Solnick and Hemenway (1998; see also Solnick & Hemenway,
2005) found that a majority of respondents would prefer to live in
a world in which they made $50,000 and everyone else made
$25,000 than a world in which they made $100,000 and everyone
else made $200,000. That is, people were willing to take a $50,000
pay cut in order to have a larger income than their neighbors. This
was not true of vacations. Rather, a majority of Solnick and
Hemenway’s (1998) respondents stated that they would prefer to
live in a world in which they had 4 weeks of vacation and everyone
else had 8 weeks, than a world in which they had 2 weeks of
vacation and everyone else had 1 week. No matter how one’s own
vacation time compared to everyone else’s, more vacation was
deemed better.
Finally, because our experiences become our memories, they are
more truly a part of the self than are possessions (Carter &
Gilovich, 2009). They are less easily undone or mentally ex-
changed for something else. Mentally exchanging an experience
involves deleting a part of the self, something that people are
understandably reluctant to do (Gilovich, 1991). Experiences
therefore tend to be experienced, remembered, and evaluated more
on their own terms, and less in terms of how they compare to
alternative experiences. Although some people certainly do try to
create or project an identity with their possessions (see Tian,
Bearden, & Hunter, 2001), we believe that even these people
would be much more willing to exchange or upgrade their posses-
sions than their memories.
In the present research we investigate this proposition that
potentially troubling comparisons to other alternatives are more
troublesome when it comes to material possessions than experi-
ences. We begin by examining, in Study 1, whether people do
indeed find the experience of deciding between material purchases
to be more troublesome than deciding between experiential pur-
chases. We then investigate, in Study 2, whether people are more
inclined to maximize when it comes to material purchases and
more inclined to satisfice when it comes to experiential purchases.
We then directly examine in Study 3 whether people are more
likely to inspect foregone material purchases than foregone expe-
riential purchases and whether this impacts their enjoyment of
their own experience or possession accordingly (Study 4). Finally,
we explore in Studies 5A, 5B, 5C, and 6 whether potentially
troublesome comparisons with other options are less troubling for
experiential purchases than material purchases.
Study 1: Decision Difficulty
To determine whether the act of deciding between different
material purchases is experienced as more difficult than decid-
ing between different experiential purchases, we asked partic-
ipants to recall either a significant material or experiential
purchase they had made when faced with a large number of
options (to ensure that the purchase decision was, in fact, a
decision). Participants then answered a number of questions
about how difficult the decision was and how they felt about the
decision afterwards. We predicted that material purchase deci-
sions would be remembered as more difficult than experiential
purchase decisions at the time they were made and that the
sense of difficulty would linger and affect participants’ current
feelings about the decision.
Participants also reported both their initial and current satisfac-
tion with the purchase. This allowed us not only to look at
differences in participants’ satisfaction with the different types of
purchases and how satisfaction changed over time, but also to
examine whether any differences in satisfaction are related to the
initial difficulty in making the decision and any lingering thoughts
about the wisdom of the decision. We predicted that these linger-
ing thoughts of material purchase decisions would be associated
with lower feelings of current satisfaction.
147
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
Method
Participants and procedure. One hundred forty-two partici-
pants completed the survey (92 women, 50 men) while waiting to
participate in other studies.
Materials. The survey first asked participants to recall either
a material or an experiential purchase that had cost at least $50 (to
ensure that it was of sufficient importance to generate continued
thought). They were asked to provide a brief description of the
purchase and to indicate how much it cost, how long ago it was
made, and how important it was (on a 7-point scale; 1 not at all
important,7very important).
Because we wanted to know how participants felt about the
decision at the time, the survey included three questions assessing
the difficulty of the decision at the time it was made: (a) a direct
question about the difficulty of the decision, (b) a question about
how concerned they had been about whether they had made the
right choice, and (c) a question about how torn they had been
between the option they chose and the other options. Participants’
responses to these questions (each made on a 7-point scale) were
combined into a composite score of past difficulty with the deci-
sion (␣⫽.72).
We also wanted to see if participants’ thoughts about the deci-
sion lingered, and so we included three questions assessing how
participants were currently thinking about it. These questions
assessed (a) their concern about whether they had made the right
choice, (b) their concern about whether another option might have
been better, and (c) how often they thought about whether other
options might have been better. Participants’ responses to these
questions (each made on a 7-point scale) were combined into a
composite measure of present concern (␣⫽.75).
To get a sense of how they had approached the purchase
decision, participants were asked whether they had thought of the
purchase more in absolute terms or more in comparison to other,
similar items (also on a 7-point scale).
Finally, participants were asked about both their initial and
current satisfaction with the purchase (both on a 7-point scale; 1
not at all satisfied,7very satisfied). Because responses to the
satisfaction questions might influence responses to the past and
present concern measures (and vice versa), we counterbalanced
whether the two satisfaction questions came at the beginning or
end of the survey.
Results
Manipulation check. To confirm that participants recalled
purchases that adequately fit the assigned material or experiential
category, three independent raters viewed each of the descriptions
provided by participants and rated the degree to which each
purchase was a material possession or an experience (1 defi-
nitely material,4does not fit either category,7definitely
experiential). Raters saw only the participants’ written descriptions
and thus were blind to condition and any other potentially biasing
information. The ratings were sufficiently reliable (␣⫽.91), so
they were averaged together. Not only were the two conditions
significantly different from each other, t(140) 16.53, p.0001,
both conditions were significantly different from the scale mid-
point in the expected direction (both ts7.49, ps.0001). It
appears that our manipulation was successful.
1
Because the amount of time since the purchases were made and
the cost of the purchases were skewed, these data were trans-
formed to natural logs and the transformed data were used in all
analyses involving these measures. This procedure was followed in
subsequent studies as well. There was no difference between
conditions in how much the purchases cost (t1), although
participants did report that the experiential purchases were signif-
icantly more important, t(140) –2.38, p.05, and were made
longer ago, t(137) –2.56, p.05.
2
We control statistically for
these differences in the analyses below.
As predicted, participants in the material condition reported that
their purchase decisions had been more difficult (M4.18, SD
1.25) than did participants in the experiential condition (M3.03,
SD 1.41), t(140) 5.10, p.001, d0.86. Participants’
difficulty in deciding reverberated in their current feelings about
the choice, as those in the material condition expressed more
present concern about their choice (M2.71, SD 1.33) than did
those in the experiential condition (M2.07, SD 1.09),
t(140) 3.14, p.01, d0.53. An analysis of covariance
(ANCOVA) revealed that this effect held when controlling for the
importance and cost of the purchases, and how long ago the
purchase was made, for both the past, F(1, 133) 26.73, p.001,
and present, F(1, 133) 10.95, p.01, composite measures.
In support of our contention that experiences are evaluated in
less comparative terms than material purchases, participants in the
experiential condition reported that they thought about their pur-
chase decisions in more absolute and less comparative terms (M
4.60, SD 1.87) than did those in the material condition (M
3.96, SD 1.70), t(140) 2.14, p.05, d0.36. An ANCOVA
revealed that this finding also held when controlling for the im-
portance, cost, and how long ago the purchase was made, F(1,
133) 4.42, p.05.
Although there was no difference in reported initial satisfac-
tion between participants in the experiential (M6.06, SD
1.37) and material (M6.01, SD 1.01) conditions, t(140)
1, ns, participants did report more current satisfaction with their
experiential purchases (M6.25, SD 1.06) than their ma-
terial purchases (M5.78, SD 1.19), t(139) –2.47, p
.05, d0.42.
3
That is, although participants were quite happy
with both purchases initially, their enjoyment has since diverged.
Although neither change was significantly different from zero,
satisfaction with experiences tended to increase over time, whereas
satisfaction with material purchases tended to decrease over time
1
It should be noted that the distribution of raters’ scores was bimodal,
indicating that participants not only understood the instructions but also
had little difficulty coming up with purchases that fit either category.
Indeed, only 16% (n23) of the purchases were rated as being somewhat
ambiguous, receiving an average rating of greater than or equal to 3.0 and
less than or equal to 5.0. If, instead of analyzing the data by assigned
condition, we use these ratings to create three categories (experiential,
material, and ambiguous), the results mirror those using the assigned
conditions for the material and experiential categories, with the ambiguous
category falling in between.
2
Three participants’ reports of the amount of time since they made their
purchase were not quantifiable (e.g., “a long time ago”), hence the slightly
lower degrees of freedom for those two measures.
3
One participant did not respond to the current satisfaction question,
hence the lower degrees of freedom for this analysis.
148 CARTER AND GILOVICH
(see Figure 1).
4
A repeated-measures ANOVA confirms this,
yielding an interaction that approached significance between time
and experimental condition, F(1, 139) 3.53, p.06.
Mediational analysis. To examine whether participants found
their material purchase decisions currently less satisfying than
their experiential decisions because thoughts of better options
continued to linger more for the material purchases, we conducted
a mediational analysis following the procedures of Baron and
Kenny (1986). Recalling a material purchase rather than an expe-
riential purchase was associated both with significantly decreased
feelings of current satisfaction (␤⫽–.41, t–2.47, p.05) and
with increased present concern about how the purchase compares
with other options (␤⫽.51, t3.14, p.01). The effect of the
mediator (present concern) on current satisfaction remained sig-
nificant when controlling for material/experiential condition (␤⫽
–.44, t–5.71, p.001), but the effect of material/experiential
condition dropped to nonsignificance (␤⫽–.18, t–1.21, p
.20; Sobel test: Z–2.75, p.01). Put more simply, greater
present concern about how their material purchase compared to
other alternatives led directly to reduced current satisfaction with
the purchase.
Discussion
These findings indicate that material purchase decisions are
more difficult than experiential purchase decisions at the time they
are made and that concern about those decisions lingers into the
present. Material purchases were reported to be currently less
satisfying, and this difference was mediated by participants’ cur-
rent concern about the decision and the options foregone. Partic-
ipants in Study 1 also reported being prone to thinking of their
material purchases in more comparative terms and to thinking of
their experiential purchases more on their own merits. The greater
difficulty people experience when deciding between material pur-
chases, and the tendency to consider potential material purchases
in comparative terms, suggests that perhaps people may be in-
clined to use something of a maximizing strategy (Schwartz, 2004;
Schwartz et al., 2002) when choosing material possessions. And
the relative ease of deciding between experiential purchases sug-
gests that perhaps people are relatively more inclined to satisfice
when it comes to experiential purchases. Study 2 was designed to
examine this possibility.
Study 2: Maximizing and Satisficing
Maximizing refers to a decision strategy whereby all possible
options are compared and what is considered the best possible
alternative is selected. Although typically effective in terms of
obtaining the best outcome, the strategy is time intensive, and the
tendency to use it is associated with negative psychological con-
sequences (Schwartz et al., 2002) and, in some circumstances, with
less satisfaction with objectively superior outcomes (Iyengar,
Wells, & Schwartz, 2006). Indeed, the mere act of contemplating
other options appears to make the foregone options more attractive
(Carmon, Wertenbroch, & Zeelenberg, 2003), which can increase
regret and disappointment. Satisficing refers to a decision strategy
whereby a minimum standard for overall quality is set and the first
option that meets that standard is selected (Simon, 1955). Al-
though satisficing saves the decision-maker from an exhaustive
(and often exhausting) search and guarantees that the chosen
option will meet the minimum criteria, it leaves open the possi-
bility that other options would have been better.
5
If, as we propose, people are less inclined to compare different
experiential purchases than different material purchases, they
should be less likely to use the maximizing strategy when making
experiential purchase decisions, as the strategy relies on extensive
comparisons. Rather, people may be more likely to opt for the
simpler satisficing strategy when making experiential purchase
decisions, perhaps obtaining a worse outcome, but feeling better
about it (Iyengar et al., 2006). That is, given that people tend to
engage in more comparisons for material than experiential goods,
there is a greater “fit” between the maximizing strategy for mate-
rial purchase decisions and between the satisficing strategy and
experiential purchase decisions. We therefore predicted that when
asked to recall a material and an experiential purchase, participants
would report that they had tended to maximize when making their
material purchase and to satisfice when making their experiential
purchase.
4
The placement of the satisfaction questions did not influence responses
to any of the other questions, nor did it influence responses to the initial
satisfaction questions. However, there was a significant interaction be-
tween condition and placement for responses to the current satisfaction
questions, F(1, 137) 5.29, p.05. That is, the reported main effect of
condition on current satisfaction was evident when participants answered
the satisfaction questions before the difficulty questions, t(72) 3.21, p
.01, but not after, t(65) 1, ns. We suspect that the act of assessing and
reporting their difficulty in making the material decisions induced in
participants a feeling of cognitive dissonance, which they resolved by
reporting higher current satisfaction (Brehm, 1956).
5
Although the maximizing–satisficing distinction is often described as
an individual difference variable (Schwartz et al., 2002), it is also assumed
that people may be maximizers in some domains and satisficers in others
(Schwartz, 2004). Our focus is on whether people are more likely to
satisfice when it comes to experiences and more likely to maximize when
it comes to possessions, over and above any general predisposition to
maximize or satisfice.
Figure 1. Initial and current satisfaction with earlier material and experien-
tial purchases (Study 1). Error bars indicate the standard error of the mean.
149
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
Method
Participants and procedure. Thirty participants were re-
cruited at various points around campus to complete the survey.
Materials. To examine how people approach decisions about
material and experiential purchases, we asked participants to recall
both a material and an experiential purchase they had made when
faced with a large array of options (counterbalancing the order of
recall). Participants provided a brief label describing each purchase
and indicated its cost. The two decision-making strategies (maxi-
mizing and satisficing) were then briefly described (order also
counterbalanced), and participants were asked to indicate for
which purchase they tended to use the maximizing strategy and for
which purchase they tended to use the satisficing strategy on two
9-point scales (1 experience,9material; counterbalanced).
They also indicated which strategy they tended to use most often,
regardless of the type of purchase (also on a 9-point scale, an-
chored by maximizing and satisficing).
Results
There were no effects of the order in which participants were asked
to recall their experiential and material purchases, or of the order in
which the maximizing and satisficing strategies were described
(both ts1). There was also no difference in the average cost of
participants’ material and experiential purchases, paired t(26)
1.
6
Finally, participants did not report an overall tendency to
maximize or satisfice their purchasing decisions, with the mean
rating of 4.97 not significantly different from the midpoint of the
scale, one-sample t(29) 1.
When asked about satisficing, however, participants reported
that they were more likely to use such a strategy for choosing an
experience than for choosing a possession (M3.97, SD 2.50,
with higher numbers indicating greater use of the strategy for
material purchases), one-sample ttest against the scale midpoint,
t(29) –2.27, p.05. In contrast, when asked about maximizing,
participants reported that they were marginally more likely to use
such a strategy when choosing a possession than when choosing an
experience (M5.83, SD 2.55, with higher numbers indicating
greater use of the strategy for material purchases), one-sample t
test against the scale midpoint, t(29) 1.79, p.10. Combining
participants’ responses to these two questions in a single analysis,
we found that participants thought that maximizing was relatively
more appropriate for choosing possessions and satisficing was
relatively more appropriate for choosing experiences, paired
t(29) 2.15, p.05, d0.75. Controlling for the cost of
participants’ experiential and material purchases did not affect this
result, t(24) 2.22, p.05.
Discussion
The results of this study reinforce those obtained in Study 1.
When asked specifically about maximizing, participants said they
were more likely to use it for selecting material possessions than
for selecting experiences. When asked about satisficing, partici-
pants said precisely the opposite. These findings coincide with the
greater difficulty participants in Study 1 reported with making
material purchases—and the greater enduring concern they re-
ported about whether their material purchases were the right ones.
We contend that both of these findings result in part from the
tendency for material purchases to be evaluated in more compar-
ative terms than experiential purchases. We examine that conten-
tion directly in Study 3.
Study 3: Examining Foregone Material and
Experiential Options
If, as we maintain, material purchases tend to be more compar-
ative than experiential purchases, this should be apparent in peo-
ple’s information search tendencies. That is, after making their
decision, people should continue to examine unchosen alternative
material purchases more than unchosen alternative experiential
purchases. This should be especially true for those unchosen
purchases which most readily invite such comparisons, namely
those most similar to the actual purchase (e.g., other televisions, if
one has purchased a television). To investigate this hypothesis, we
exposed participants to a large amount of information about a set
of possible material purchases (electronic gadgets) or possible
experiential purchases (vacations), and then, after a particular
purchase was specified, we examined how often they went back to
examine details of the unselected possibilities.
Method
Participants. Sixty participants completed the study in ex-
change for extra credit in psychology or human development
courses.
Materials. We constructed two different choice sets, one
composed of 12 material possessions (electronics) and the other of
12 experiences (vacations) to serve as the between-subjects ma-
nipulation of purchase type. Each choice set, in turn, consisted of
three subcategories of four options each. For the electronics choice
set, the subcategories were digital cameras, surround-sound sys-
tems, and flat-screen televisions. For the vacations, the subcate-
gories were beach vacations, city vacations, and ski vacations.
Each option was described by two qualitative features uniquely
applicable to that particular option and by two quantitative details.
For example, one of the qualitative features of one of the digital
cameras was “in-camera image stabilization and anti-dust vibra-
tion systems,” and one of the qualitative features of one of the
beach vacations was “short walk to bars, restaurants, and other
nightlife.” The quantitative details were the cost of the option and
a quality/desirability rating—from Consumer Reports for the gad-
gets and from TripAdvisor.com for the vacations. The prices
(ranging from $799 –$1,899) and the ratings (ranging from 2.63–
4.94) were perfectly correlated to reinforce the impression that the
prices and ratings were valid. The specific numbers for the cost
and ratings were identical between conditions and were assigned to
a given purchase according to two different random pairings. For
example, in one version, both a Canon digital camera and a
vacation to Maui were priced at $999 and given a rating (from
Consumer Reports and TripAdvisor.com, respectively) of 3.05.
Thus, any difference between conditions in participants’ perusal of
6
Three participants did not report a quantifiable cost of their material or
experiential purchase. Their responses were included in all analyses except
those involving cost, hence the lowered degrees of freedom for those
analyses.
150 CARTER AND GILOVICH
the different options cannot be attributed to any differences in
these quantitative elements of the information associated with the
material and experiential items. Participants were randomly as-
signed to see either the material (electronic gadgets) or the expe-
riential (vacations) choice set.
Procedure. Participants were brought to the lab to participate
in a study of how people evaluate decisions made from a large
number of options. They were told that they were going to see
information about a number of different purchase options and that
they should try to get inside the head of someone who was trying
to choose the best one. They were first passively exposed to all of
the information about every option in the choice set (consisting of
a picture and label, plus the four details) for 5 s each. They were
then shown one of the options again (randomly selected from the
set of options) and told to imagine that a hypothetical person had
chosen that option from the entire array of options. Each of the 24
options was specified as the target option (i.e., the selected option)
for at least two participants, and no purchase was specified more
than four times. Participants were then asked to try to “get into the
head” of a person making this purchase and imagine that they
themselves had made this choice from the available options.
They were then given the chance to explore the options more
actively by clicking on an image of any of the options to reexamine
the information about it. After participants had finished exploring
the options, they completed several questionnaires from an unre-
lated study to serve as a distractor. Participants then filled out a
questionnaire assessing how good they thought the decision to
choose the hypothetical purchase was; whether they thought the
hypothetical purchase was the best option available; how much the
quality of the other items influenced their evaluation; and whether
they tended to evaluate the different options relative to each other,
or more absolutely, on their on merits.
We predicted that when comparisons could easily be made,
participants in the material condition would be more likely to make
them than participants in the experiential condition. Specifically,
we predicted that participants would tend to compare the selected
material purchases more with the alternatives in the same subcat-
egory (television with television, sound system with sound system)
than they would for the experiential purchases. We had no firm
prediction as to whether this effect would carry over to the uncho-
sen items outside the chosen subcategory, since those comparisons
are difficult for material possessions and experiences alike.
Results
Overall, there was no difference between conditions in the total
amount of time participants spent exploring the options (t1),
indicating that participants in the two conditions found the task
equally interesting and took it equally seriously. What participants
in the material and experiential conditions spent their time looking
at, however, was quite different and entirely consistent with our
hypothesis. Figure 2 presents the amount of time participants spent
examining the target purchase itself, foregone items from the same
category (e.g., other surround-sound systems if the target purchase
was a surround-sound system), and foregone items from other
categories (e.g., flat-panel televisions and digital cameras if the
target purchase was a surround-sound system). As a quick inspec-
tion of Figure 2 makes clear, participants in the material purchase
condition spent more time examining foregone items from the
same category than did participants in the experiential purchase
condition. To examine the reliability of this pattern, we conducted
a23 mixed between/within ANOVA on the raw amount of time
participants spent examining items in the three categories. This
analysis yielded the predicted significant interaction, F(2, 116)
3.69, p.05. Examining the source of this interaction more
closely, there was a significant difference between the material and
experiential conditions in the amount of time participants spent
looking at other items from the same category, t(116) 2.37, p
.02, but no significant difference in the amount of time they spent
examining the items from other categories, t(116) 1.35, p.15,
or the purchase itself (t1).
Decision quality. Participants’ responses to the two questions
about the quality of the decision (how good the hypothetical
decision was and whether the target item was the best option
available) correlated substantially (r.71, p.001), and so we
averaged them to form an index of decision quality. Although
participants in the material and experiential conditions did not
differ overall in their assessments of the wisdom of the hypothet-
ical decision (M
material
4.28, SD
material
1.23; M
experience
4.50, SD
experience
1.22; t1), experimental condition did
interact with whether participants said they considered the target
purchase largely on its own merits or mainly in relation to the other
items, ␤⫽–.59, t(56) –2.32, p.03. Examining this interac-
tion more specifically using the Aiken and West (1991) procedure,
we find that when participants said they evaluated the items largely
in relative terms (1 SD above the mean), those in the material
condition rated the decision less favorably than did those in the
experiential condition, ␤⫽–.77, t(56) –2.15, p.05. When
participants said they evaluated the items largely on their own
merits (1 SD below the mean), there was no significant difference
between conditions ( p.25). Thus, a focus on comparing the
target purchase to the other items was detrimental to how partic-
ipants evaluated the chosen material purchase.
Participants in the material (M5.22, SD 1.10) and expe-
riential (M5.50, SD 1.17) conditions did not differ in their
Figure 2. The amount of exploration time spent looking at the chosen
purchase, foregone options within the same subcategory as the purchase,
and foregone options in other subcategories (Study 3). Error bars indicate
the standard error of the mean.
151
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
ratings of how much they thought the other items had influenced
their evaluation of the target purchase (t1). This suggests that
participants in the material condition, at least those who reported
considering the options in more relative terms, were unaware that
the mere act of looking at the unchosen options had a negative
impact on their evaluation. In the studies reported below, we
explore what happens when participants are made explicitly aware
of potentially troublesome comparative information.
Discussion
When given the opportunity to investigate different options,
participants were much more likely to examine alternatives they
might easily have chosen when it came to material goods than
when it came to experiences. Participants spent more time exam-
ining unchosen material options than unchosen experiential op-
tions of the same general type—alternative televisions when a
television had been selected, or alternative sound systems when a
sound system had been selected. This fits with the findings of
Study 1, in which participants reported being haunted by unchosen
material options from the past, which diminished their satisfaction
with what they had purchased.
It is important to note, furthermore, that participants in this
study were not explicitly asked to make any comparisons, indicat-
ing that the comparisons were made spontaneously. Furthermore,
although it may often be easier in everyday life to compare
tangible material objects than anticipated or recalled experiences,
we found differences in comparative examination of material
goods and experiences even when such comparisons were equally
available to participants in the two conditions. Nevertheless, we
suspect that when faced, say, with myriad flat-screen televisions in
a big-box electronics store, the opportunity for side-by-side com-
parisons of the available options—pixels versus pixels, square
inches versus square inches—will compel even more comparison
than that observed here. Some of this comparative assessment
undoubtedly goes on when one is confronted with vacation bro-
chures in a travel agent’s office, but the comparisons tend to be
less certain (the powder in Utah or Colorado, the waves in Baja or
Fiji) and hence less impactful.
Having established that the evaluation of material goods
tends to be more comparative than the evaluation of experi-
ences, we next sought to examine the consequences of this
difference in comparative assessment. Given that people seem
to be more concerned about alternative material goods than
alternative experiences, what impact might information about
other possibilities have on their satisfaction with the material
goods and experiences with which they end up? Do compari-
sons with other options prove more troublesome for material
purchases than experiential purchases? We examine this ques-
tion in the following studies.
Study 4: Context Matters, Sometimes
Morewedge and colleagues (Morewedge, Gilbert, Kassam,
Myrseth, & Wilson, 2009) demonstrated that although people
predict that how much they would enjoy eating a bag of potato
chips would be influenced by the presence of better (e.g., choco-
late) or worse (e.g., sardines) food items, the actual experience of
eating the chips is just as enjoyable no matter what the context (for
a discussion of the inherent evaluability of consumption experi-
ences, see Hsee, Yang, Li, & Shen, 2009). That is, the comparisons
people think they might make do not, in fact, have the predicted
hedonic impact. Would this be true of material goods as well? We
conducted this study to find out.
We were not interested in people’s forecasts, so we replicated
only the “actual” half of the design of the Morewedge et al. (2009)
study, adding a set of conditions in which participants received a
material possession (a pen) instead of an experience (a bag of
chips). Ostensibly as part of a product evaluation study, partici-
pants were given a prize (either a bag of chips to eat or a pen to
keep) in the context of much better prizes, much worse prizes, or
without any context (baseline condition). Thus, the design of the
experiment was a 2 (item type: experience vs. possession) 3
(context: superior, inferior, control) factorial. We predicted that the
comparison items would not influence participants’ ratings of the
experiential good but would influence their ratings of the material
good.
Pilot Testing
We selected the target material and experiential prizes, a Pilot
G2 Superfine pen and a 1-oz. bag of original flavor Frito-Lay Sun
Chips, respectively, on the basis of informal pilot testing that
suggested they were roughly equally desirable. To identify other
items that were superior and inferior to the target prizes and would
serve as the surrounding context, 21 Cornell University students
were asked to rate 20 different material and experiential products
on a 7-point scale (1 very negative,7very positive). An
additional 20 participants rated the same 20 items plus three
additional items using the same procedure. Each of the products
was present on a table in front of them, and participants were
encouraged to examine each one before making their ratings. On
the basis of these ratings, we selected three material items that
were rated significantly more positively than the Pilot pen (M
3.66, SD 1.54): a Cornell University espresso mug (M4.75,
SD 1.43), a leather-bound Cornell University notebook (M
5.68, SD 1.56), and a 1GB USB flash drive (M6.10, SD
1.14; all paired ts3, ps.001). We likewise selected three
material items that were rated significantly less positively than the
Pilot pen: an unsharpened wooden pencil (M1.76, SD 0.92),
a small bag of rubber bands (M2.02, SD 1.19), and an eraser
(M2.22, SD 1.11; all paired ts–6, ps.001).
For experiences, we selected three items that were rated signif-
icantly more positively than the Sun Chips (M3.02, SD 1.37):
a Lindt Truffle chocolate bar (M5.05, SD 1.19), a Dove
chocolate bar (M4.88, SD 1.31), and a Cadbury chocolate bar
(M4.90, SD 1.52; all ts6, all ps.001). We also selected
three items that were rated significantly less positively than the
Sun Chips: a single serving of Spam (M1.95, SD 1.07), a can
of sardines (M1.71, SD 1.01), and an 8-oz. bottle of clam
juice (M1.46, SD 0.98; all ts4, all ps.001).
Although the pilot participants rated the Sun Chips significantly
less positively than the Pilot pen, t(40) 2.50, p.05, we believe
that this difference was a result of the influence of the other items.
The context-free control condition of the experiment proper should
allow us to test this possibility.
152 CARTER AND GILOVICH
Method
Participants. One hundred twenty-two participants (73
women, 49 men) completed the experiment in exchange for course
credit or a small cash payment. We excluded four participants for
whom the manipulation was not successful (they indicated either
that the nearby items in the superior context were worse than the
target item, or that the nearby items in the inferior context were
better than the target item). One additional participant was ex-
cluded because the pen leaked on his hand. This left a total of 117
participants in the study.
Procedure. Participants in the superior and inferior context
conditions were seated at a laboratory table with four prizes laid
out on top, along with a sign stating “Prizes for Experiment.” In
addition to the target material (pen) or experiential (Sun Chips)
prize, participants in the inferior context condition could see the
three prizes that had been rated as inferior to the target prize (e.g.,
clam juice, rubber bands), and participants in the superior context
condition could see the three prizes that had been rated as superior
to the target prize (e.g., Lindt truffle bar, leather folder).
Participants were told that they would be given one of the
products and that they would be asked to try it out and rate how
much they liked it. The experimenter then casually consulted her
clipboard (ostensibly to determine which of the four prizes the
participant would receive) before announcing that the participant
would be given the target material or experiential prize. Partici-
pants were then left alone for 2 min to eat the chips or try out the
pen on some scrap paper while “verbalizing their thoughts and
feelings.” After 2 min, participants were given a rating form,
which asked them to rate how much they liked the product by
placing a mark on a 150-mm analog scale, anchored at not at all
and very much. There was also a box on the form where they were
asked to explain this rating. Aside from the absence of any other
prizes, the procedure was identical for participants in the control
condition.
After participants made their ratings, they were led from the lab
room and asked what they thought the experiment was about and
whether they had found anything suspicious about the procedure.
Participants in the superior and inferior context conditions were
also asked if they had noticed the other prizes; whether they
thought the other prizes were better than, worse than, or the same
as the prize they were given; and, finally, whether they thought the
other prizes had influenced their ratings. Participants were then
debriefed, thanked, and dismissed.
Results and Discussion
Manipulation check. We looked at the responses of partici-
pants in the superior and inferior context conditions during de-
briefing to confirm that the other prizes were, in fact, considered
better or worse than the target prize. Although participants were
allowed to indicate that the target prize did not differ from the
context prizes, 83.33% of the participants in the superior context
condition indicated that the other prizes were better than the target
prize and 74.36% of the participants in the inferior context con-
dition indicated that the other prizes were worse than the target
prize,
2
(N75) 82.68, p.001.
The ratings of participants in the control condition confirmed
that, devoid of context, the pen and Sun Chips were viewed
similarly (t1, ns).
Ratings. We predicted that the material item (the pen) would
be rated less favorably in the context of the superior material items
than in the context of the inferior material items. We predicted no
such difference in the ratings of the experiential item (the Sun
Chips), which we predicted would be rated the same as the items
(material or experiential) in the two control conditions. Because
four of the six conditions were not expected to differ from one
another, the conventional 2 3 ANOVA does not offer the most
appropriate test of the hypothesis. Instead, we constructed a linear
contrast with contrast weights of 1 for the superior material
context, 1 for the inferior material context, and 0 for all other
groups. As predicted, this contrast was significant, F(1, 111)
4.05, p.05. Importantly, the contrast for the residual was not
significant, indicating that our planned contrast captures nearly all
of the between-condition variability, F(4, 111) 2.30, p.05.
Post hoc ttests revealed that, as predicted, the Sun Chips were
rated equally in the superior (M104.53, SD 31.15), control
(M107.28, SD 30.54), and inferior contexts (M109.73,
SD 26.09; both ts1). However, also as predicted, the pen was
rated less favorably in the superior context (M78.53, SD
35.82) than it was in both the control, no-comparison context (M
103.64, SD 23.28), t(111) 2.64, p.01, and in the inferior
context (M98.40, SD 36.87), t(111) 2.01, p.05. Counter
to our predictions, the pen was not rated more favorably in the
inferior material context than it was in the control, no-comparison
context, t(111) 1. A closer look at the manipulation check
suggests why. Although the pilot subjects had rated the pen sig-
nificantly more highly than the three inferior items, more than half
of the actual participants in the experiment proper (52.63%) rated
the inferior material items the same as the target item. (Note that
this was not the case in the experiential condition, in which 100%
of the participants rated the inferior comparison items less favor-
ably than the target item.) This suggests that our attempt to create
an inferior comparative context in the material condition was not
as successful as our effort to create a superior context. Alterna-
tively, it is also possible, of course, that downward material com-
parisons do not enhance evaluations to the same degree that
upward comparisons diminish them. Nevertheless, taken as a
whole, the results of this study support our thesis that salient
comparisons have a greater impact on people’s satisfaction with
their material goods than with their experiential goods.
Studies 5A, 5B, 5C, and 6: Invidious Counterfactual
and Social Comparisons
It sometimes happens that after a choice has been made, new
options become available— options that are clearly superior to
what one had chosen earlier and regarded as the best choice from
the existing set of options. How disturbing does knowledge of
these new options tend to be? More specifically, is it more dis-
turbing to learn about newer and better options after having made
a material purchase than after having made an experiential pur-
chase? In Study 5A, we asked participants how they would react
when, after making a material or experiential purchase, they
learned that a better alternative to what they had chosen was now
available. In Study 5B, we asked how they would react upon
learning that the material or experiential choice they made was
now available at a better price. In Study 5C, we asked participants
how they would react upon learning that a rival made a better
153
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
material or experiential purchase. And in Study 6, we replicated
Study 5B, this time using the exact same item in the two conditions
but describing it as either a material or experiential good. We
predicted that because material purchases tend to be evaluated
more comparatively than experiential purchases, each of these
different types of potentially invidious comparisons would be
more troubling to participants when it came to material purchases.
Study 5A: New Options Available
Method
Participants and procedure. One hundred sixty-four partic-
ipants (124 women, 39 men, 1 unspecified) completed the survey
either while waiting for other experiments or as filler question-
naires in unrelated experiments.
Materials. The questionnaire asked participants to imagine
that they had recently made a purchase from a large array of
options, that they had chosen the best option from the array, and
that they were happy with their purchase. Then, by chance, they
discovered that in the time since they made the purchase, new
options had become available—and that some of these options
were clearly superior to those of the item they chose.
To make this scenario concrete and to cover an array of pur-
chases and prices, participants were asked to imagine it in the
context of one of four specific material purchases or one of four
specific experiential purchases. The four material purchases were
a wristwatch, a laptop computer, an MP3 player, and a pair of
jeans. The four experiential purchases were a meal at an upscale
restaurant, a movie ticket, a show in New York City, and an island
vacation package.
7
Participants read one scenario each and then rated how disturbed
they would be by the knowledge that better options were now
available and how much their satisfaction with their purchase
would be diminished by that knowledge. Finally, to assess whether
participants attached the same average level of importance to the
material and experiential purchases, participants rated how much
they cared about the type of purchase they had been asked to
imagine. Participants responded to all three questions on 7-point
scales.
Results
Not surprisingly, participants reported caring more about some
purchases than others, with a high mean rating of 5.52 (laptop
computer) and a low mean rating of 4.18 (wristwatch) for the
material purchases, and a high mean rating of 5.57 (vacation
package) and a low mean rating of 4.05 (movie ticket) for the
experiential purchases. Collapsing across the different types of
material and experiential purchases, however, there was no differ-
ence in how much participants cared about the two different
categories of purchase (t1). Thus, any difference in how
troubled participants indicated they would be by finding out about
the availability of other, superior material and experiential options
cannot be attributed to any difference in the importance assigned to
the particular material and experiential purchases they were asked
to consider.
As predicted, participants who were asked about material pur-
chases reported that knowledge of the availability of new options
would be significantly more disturbing to them (M3.98, SD
1.59) than did participants who were asked about experiential
purchases (M3.29, SD 1.78), t(162) 2.61, p.01, d
0.41. Participants who were asked about material purchases also
reported that learning about the availability of additional options
would diminish their satisfaction with their purchase (M3.82,
SD 1.28) more than did participants who were asked about
experiential purchases (M3.39, SD 1.46), t(162) 2.01, p
.05, d0.32. On both measures, an ANCOVA indicated that the
difference between the material and experiential conditions re-
mained significant when the extent to which participants cared
about the purchase was controlled: F(1, 161) 7.79, p.01, for
how disturbed participants would be, and F(1, 161) 4.35, p
.05, for how much it would diminish their satisfaction.
The results quite clearly show that knowing that one could have
had a better product is more disturbing when it is a material
product rather than an experiential product. This supports our
contention that comparisons loom larger in evaluations of material
possessions than in evaluations of experiences. What about other
types of comparisons? Do people also find it more upsetting to
learn that others received the same material possession for a better
price than to learn that others received the same experience for a
better price? Study 5B was designed to find out.
Study 5B: Acquired for Less
Method
Participants and procedure. Sixty-two participants (47
women, 15 men) completed the survey either while waiting to
complete other experiments or as filler questionnaires in unrelated
experimental sessions.
Materials. The scenarios used in this study were identical to
those in Study 5A, except that rather than stating that new options
had become available, the scenarios asked participants to imagine
that they had discovered that since the time they had made their
purchase, its price had been lowered. We predicted that because of
the more comparative nature of the satisfaction derived from
material goods, participants would report being more disturbed by
the knowledge that their material purchase was now available at a
lower price.
Results
As in Study 5A, participants reported caring more about some
purchases than others, with a high mean rating of 6.00 (laptop
computer) and a low mean rating of 3.86 (wristwatch) for the
material purchases, and a high mean rating of 6.00 (vacation
package) and a low mean rating of 4.43 (show in New York City)
for the experiential purchases. Collapsing across the different
material and experiential purchases again yielded no difference in
7
To confirm that these purchases represented their intended categories,
15 participants rated each of them for the degree to which they constituted
material possessions or experiences (1 definitely material,4does not
fit in either category,7definitely experience). Each of the purchases was
significantly different from the midpoint of the scale in the predicted
direction (all ts3.00, ps.01). Error bars indicate the standard error of
the mean.
154 CARTER AND GILOVICH
how much participants reported caring about the two different
categories of purchase (t1). Thus, as in Study 5A, any differ-
ence in how troubled participants indicated they would be by
finding out about a lower price cannot be attributed to any differ-
ence in the importance assigned to the particular material and
experiential purchases they were asked to consider.
As predicted, learning that the price had been lowered after a
purchase had been made was significantly more disturbing to
participants who were asked about material purchases (M4.97,
SD 1.08) than to participants asked about experiential purchases
(M3.42, SD 1.50), t(60) 4.67, p.001, d1.20.
Participants who were asked about material purchases also re-
ported that learning about the lower price would diminish their
satisfaction with their purchase (M3.29, SD 1.42) more than
did participants who were asked about experiential purchases
(M2.39, SD 1.36), t(60) 2.56, p.05, d0.66. On both
measures, an ANCOVA showed that the difference between par-
ticipants’ ratings in the material and experiential conditions re-
mained significant when the extent to which participants cared
about the purchase was controlled: F(1, 59) 24.18, p.001, for
how disturbed participants would be, and F(1, 59) 6.33, p.05,
for how much it would diminish their satisfaction.
Discussion
Studies 5A and 5B demonstrate that having participants imagine
acquiring new information that evokes potentially troublesome
counterfactuals has different effects when it comes to material and
experiential purchases. The mere knowledge that in some other
state of the world, a better outcome could have been obtained, was
significantly more disturbing when the purchase was a material
good than when it was a life experience. What’s more, participants
reported that these counterfactuals would diminish their satisfac-
tion with their purchase more in the material than in the experi-
ential case. It is important to note that the superior outcomes
(either superior in function or superior in price) that the partici-
pants were led to imagine were unattainable at the time of the
decision. Although participants were not told explicitly that they
could not reverse the state of affairs (by returning the now-
diminished purchase), the questions asked participants to indicate
how they would feel as a result of merely knowing that better
options (or lower prices) were now available. Note, furthermore,
that although the ability to make an exchange would presumably
diminish the negative impact of learning about a better option or a
lower price, an exchange is only plausible in the material case.
Any thoughts participants may have had about returning their
purchase thus cannot explain the pattern of results we observed.
Study 5C: A Rival’s Better Deal
The results of Studies 5A and 5B indicate that people are more
affected by invidious comparisons to better options, or better deals,
when it comes to material rather than experiential purchases.
Often, however, the comparisons people make are not between one
option and another, but between a chosen option and someone
else’s. Does my cell phone get better service than yours? Does
your car get better gas mileage than mine? These types of social
comparisons are nearly unavoidable (Gilbert, Giesler, & Morris,
1995; Mussweiler, Ru¨ter, & Epstude, 2004; Suls & Wheeler,
2000). In this study, we wanted to examine whether the more
comparative nature of material goods leads to more damaging
social comparisons.
Specifically, we asked participants to imagine that a material
and an experiential purchase did not measure up to the purchase
made by a rival—a particularly potent target of social comparison.
We predicted that learning that a rival’s purchase was superior
would diminish participants’ satisfaction with their own purchase
more when the purchase was a material good than when it was an
experience.
Because the boundary between material and experiential goods
can be fuzzy (a point to which we return in both the next study and
the General Discussion), we have tried to instantiate the different
conditions in several different ways. In Studies 1 and 2, partici-
pants were asked to think of an example that typified the category
for them, allowing them to draw the categorical distinction them-
selves. In Studies 3, 4, 5A, and 5B, we used specific representative
examples of material and experiential purchases to ensure that
participants were using the categories as we intended. In this study,
we took a hybrid approach. We gave participants a concrete
example of either a material or experiential purchase and had them
recall a complementary purchase that they considered equivalent
to the concrete example provided. This has the benefit of con-
straining the category with a specific example and of allowing the
participants to equate the two purchases themselves. Thus, we can
be reasonably sure that the purchases are, at least in the minds of
the participants, equivalent.
Method
Participants and procedure. Sixty-six participants com-
pleted the survey while waiting for other experiments to begin.
Materials. The scenario asked participants to imagine that a
rival had made the same material and experiential purchases that
they had, but that their rival’s had turned out better in each case.
There were two versions of the survey. Participants were given
either a specific material purchase (a laptop computer) or a specific
experiential purchase (a vacation package) and told that their rival
had also purchased one from the same vendor at the same price,
but that in talking with the rival afterwards, it was clear that the
rival’s outcome was better. Participants were then asked to gen-
erate an equivalent item from the category other than the one they
had been given—that is, to think of an experiential purchase
equivalent to a laptop or a material purchase equivalent to a
vacation. They were then asked to imagine the same scenario (with
the rival’s purchase turning out better) with respect to this other
purchase. Thus, all participants had in mind a material and an
experiential purchase that were, to them, equivalent.
For each purchase, participants indicated on 7-point scales how
jealous they would be of their rival’s superior purchase and how
much their satisfaction with their own purchase would be dimin-
ished by learning about their rival’s purchase (1 not at all
jealous/diminished,7extremely jealous/diminished). We pre-
dicted that participants would report being more jealous of the
rival’s superior material purchase and that this knowledge would
diminish their satisfaction with their own material purchase more
than with their own experiential purchase.
155
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
Results and Discussion
There were no differences between the two versions of the
survey on any of the measures, indicating that regardless of
whether participants were given a specific material purchase and
generated an equivalent experience or vice versa, they responded
the same (all ps.25). We therefore collapsed across the two
versions in all subsequent analyses.
Participants reported being more jealous of a rival’s superior
material purchase (M4.74, SD 1.26) than a rival’s superior
experiential purchase (M4.35, SD 1.65), paired t(65) 2.11,
p.05, d0.32, indicating that social comparisons loomed
larger for the rival’s material purchase. This difference in social
comparison, furthermore, translated into a more diminished sense
of satisfaction with participants’ own material purchase (M
4.14, SD 1.52) than with their own experiential purchase (M
3.70, SD 1.59), paired t(65) 2.32, p.05, d0.29.
Study 6: Material and Experiential Construal
In the studies reported above, we have shown that, despite the
occasionally fuzzy boundary between experiences and material
possessions, participants seem to have little trouble distinguishing
between them in the variety of ways we have asked them to do so.
What’s more, regardless of the technique used, participants have
responded similarly, consistently viewing material items in more
comparative terms than experiential items. In the final experiment,
we sought to take advantage of the fuzzy boundary between
experiences and possessions by examining whether we might
observe the same result as above with the purchase held constant,
but described in different ways. Specifically, we led one group of
participants to think of a boxed set of music as a possession and
another group to think of it as an experience. Then, as in Study 5B,
we asked them to imagine that the boxed set was now available for
less money. We predicted that participants led to think of it as a
material possession would be more troubled by this information
than participants led to think of it as an experience.
Method
Participants and procedure. Eighty participants were ap-
proached on campus to complete the survey in exchange for a
small candy bar or completed it as a filler questionnaire in unre-
lated experiments.
Materials. Participants were asked to imagine that they had
just bought a boxed set of their favorite band’s music, which
included the band’s entire catalog in unmatched quality. In the
material condition, participants were asked to imagine thinking to
themselves on the way home from the store how the boxed set
would fit into their music collection, and the prominent place it
would assume on their music shelf. In the experiential condition,
participants were asked to imagine thinking about the experience
of listening to the music and reliving their emotional connection
with the songs.
After reading the description of the boxed set, all participants
were asked to imagine that, on their way home, they noticed
another store selling the same boxed set for considerably less than
they had just paid. It was made clear that they could not return their
purchase, so they could not take advantage of the lower price.
They were then asked how bothered they would be by this devel-
opment (1 not at all,7extremely), how much it would
diminish their satisfaction (1 not at all,7extremely), and how
much they would regret having made the purchase (1 no regret
at all,7a great deal of regret). At the end of the survey,
participants completed a manipulation check, indicating whether
they thought of the boxed set of music as an experience (something
one purchases to do) or a material possession (something one
purchases to have), also on a 7-point Likert scale (1 definitely a
possession,4neither,7definitely an experience).
Results and Discussion
Manipulation check. Participants in the material condition
(M3.29, SD 1.89) rated the boxed set as more material in
nature than did participants in the experiential condition (M
4.05, SD 1.78), but to a degree that only approached signifi-
cance, t(78) –1.85, p.07, d0.43. Considering that the
manipulation must overcome participants’ existing notions of a
boxed set as material or experiential in nature, the marginal impact
is perhaps not surprising, and in any event only makes our pre-
dicted result harder to obtain.
Dependent measures. Participants’ responses to the three
questions were averaged into a composite index of displeasure
(␣⫽.77). As predicted, participants who were led to think of a
boxed set of music as a possession indicated that they would be
more troubled (M4.57, SD 1.35) by finding out that it was
available at a lower price than participants led to think of it as an
experience (M3.97, SD 1.04), t(78) 2.23, p.05, d
0.59. Although perhaps only relevant to items that do not fall
clearly into the category of experience or possession, this finding
suggests that thinking about a purchase in terms of the experiences
it affords can mitigate the impact of potentially invidious compar-
isons on people’s feelings about their material purchases.
General Discussion
The 2007 American holiday shopping season was, unlike its
recent predecessors, a dismal one, with a slower economy, higher
gas prices, and higher interest rates taking a bite out of the usual
post-Thanksgiving spending spree known as Black Friday (Bar-
baro, 2007). The bite, however, wasn’t taken out of the desire to
purchase— only the way consumers shopped. Rather than buying
fewer things, shoppers searched harder for bargains. They arrived
earlier, stood longer in line, and were more determined to find
discounts. The same trend was observed the day after Christmas,
when people were shopping mainly for themselves (Associated
Press, 2007). Throughout the day, shoppers dug through dis-
counted piles of clothes but were left unsatisfied with the prices
(Associated Press, 2007). Although a few reporters asked shoppers
whether it was worth braving the chilly mornings, long lines, and
enormous crowds for the discounts on these major shopping days
(Saitz, 2007), no one asked shoppers whether their purchases were
going to accomplish the task they had set for themselves—finding
items that would improve their lives or make them happier.
We have argued, with support from eight studies, that these types
of material purchases—purchases that encourage comparisons with
other goods and thus feed regret and rumination—are not best suited
to achieve these goals. Rather, because material purchases tend to be
156 CARTER AND GILOVICH
more comparative than experiential purchases, they tend to be ap-
proached differently, with comparisons to foregone alternatives per-
sisting and undermining satisfaction with the chosen option. In Study
1, we found that material purchase decisions were more difficult than
experiential purchase decisions; that they were evaluated more com-
paratively; and that the shadows of the foregone options lingered long
afterward in participants’ minds, leading to less current satisfaction
with their material purchases. Study 2 showed that material purchase
decisions tend to encourage the use of a maximization strategy, which
is associated with negative psychological outcomes (Schwartz et al.,
2002), whereas experiential purchases tend to encourage the use of a
satisficing approach. Study 3 demonstrated that people spontaneously
examine information about relevant unchosen material goods more
than information about unchosen experiences. In Study 4, we found
that satisfaction with a material good was diminished when it was
obtained in the presence of superior material goods, but that satisfac-
tion with an experiential good was not similarly diminished when
obtained in the presence of superior experiential goods. Finally, we
showed that when people are confronted with the same potentially
disturbing comparisons to other goods or experiences—potentially
invidious comparisons with better options (Study 5A), lower prices
(Studies 5B and 6), and better outcomes obtained by others (Study
5C)—they find these comparisons less disturbing when it comes to
experiences than material possessions. Although the participants in all
of these studies were college students, we have found the same
general tendency for people to derive more enduring satisfaction from
their experiential purchases than their material purchases in a national
sample of adults (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003).
Differential Comparability
There are a number of reasons why experiential purchases are
less comparative than material purchases. First, experiences are
simply harder to align for purposes of comparison than material
goods, especially in retrospect. It is a relatively straightforward
task to align the size, picture quality, and cost of several televisions
before deciding which has the best combination of features.
Choosing a dessert by comparing the taste and texture of an apple
tart to that of an orange sorbet is considerably more difficult; one
must literally compare apples to oranges. Interestingly, recent
research has shown that a greater number of alignable attributes
was associated with greater satisfaction with both the outcome and
decision process (Herrmann, Heitmann, Morgan, Henneberg, &
Landwehr, 2009), suggesting that our general finding that partic-
ipants are more satisfied with their experiential purchases cannot
be explained by mere differences in alignability. That said, the
ability to align different options and make such comparisons is
important to the process of preference construction (Zhang &
Markman, 2001) and justification (Markman & Medin, 1995) and
can thus directly influence how we approach the decision-making
process. Pursuing a maximizing strategy is more likely when the
options are directly comparable (which may be more often the case
with material purchases), whereas pursuing a satisficing strategy is
more likely when the options are not directly comparable (which
may be more often the case with experiential purchases).
Thus, experiences may be more inherently evaluable than pos-
sessions (Hsee et al., 2009). That is, the pleasure one gets from an
experience does not depend as much on comparing it to various
alternatives. The taste of cheesecake is generally pleasurable,
whether or not it is the best one available. The quality of one’s
television, in contrast, may be difficult to assess in the absence of
other televisions (Hsee et al., 1999; Hsee & Zhang, 2004). The
inherent evaluability of an item appears to determine whether it is
evaluated in absolute or relative terms (Hsee et al., 2009).
Second, material purchases persist in time and space, whereas
experiences persist largely in our memories. The continued presence
of material goods allows one to compare the chosen item to items
foregone, to newer and better items, to the same item at different
times, or to the items chosen by other people long after the
purchase was made. The continued reminder of a disappointing
appliance in the kitchen can call to mind such comparisons on a
daily basis. The foul taste of a poorly chosen red wine, in contrast,
typically dissolves from memory as quickly as the toothbrush
dissolves the stains on one’s teeth, and the offending bottle disap-
pears with next week’s recycling.
Third, experiences tend to be less exchangeable than material
goods because they are “inside” of us, part of who we are, rather than
“outside,” as material possessions inevitably remain (Carter & Gilov-
ich, 2009). Even for materialists, their luxurious experiences reside
inside their minds, as memories, while their luxurious possessions
are in their closets, their living rooms, or their garages. One can easily
imagine trading one’s car for a neighbor’s car, and if the neighbor’s
car is nicer, one might very well wish to do so. But it is more difficult
to imagine trading one’s vacation experience for another’s. And even
when one can imagine it, one is typically reluctant to make such an
exchange, as doing so would entail the loss of one’s memories and,
ultimately, the loss of a part of oneself (Carter & Gilovich, 2009;
Gilovich, 1991). The image of the sun setting over the ocean and the
feeling of a lover’s hand have become part of the set of life experi-
ences that make us who we are. One’s experiences are like one’s
children: You might take note of a neighbor’s valedictorian daughter
or a colleague’s team-captain son, but you wouldn’t trade your chil-
dren, however mediocre their grade-point average or free-throw per-
centage, for anything, or anyone, in the world.
Distinguishing Possessions and Experiences
One unavoidable issue in this research is the often fuzzy distinction
between material and experiential purchases. That is, whereas some
purchases are clearly material (like a collection of classic cars one
never drives) and others are clearly experiential (like a vacation),
some purchases fall somewhere in between and depend, in large part,
on how they are construed. For example, a wine collection might be
seen either as something to possess or as something to savor with
friends and loved ones. A large flat-screen television might be seen
either as a newer and shinier toy than the neighbor’s or as the means
to relish, in pristine detail, every moment of one’s favorite soccer
team’s season in the English Premier League.
Because of the difficulty of precisely defining experiences and
material possessions, we operationalized the distinction in several
different ways, so that any shortcoming of one method would be
overcome by the strengths of another. For example, in Studies 1
and 2, we described both types of purchases and asked participants
to recall examples from their own lives, trusting that they under-
stood the categories sufficiently to make the distinction them-
selves. In Study 3, we used a number of concrete examples of
material and experiential purchase options from several subcate-
gories. In Study 4, we used concrete examples of material and
157
RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
experiential purchases and had them physically present in the
environment. In Studies 5A and 5B, we used specific concrete
categories of material and experiential purchases and had partici-
pants make judgments about these specific instantiations of the
two types of purchases. In Study 5C, we gave participants an
example of either a material or an experiential purchase and then
asked them to think of an equivalent purchase from the other
category. In Study 6, we described the same purchase in terms of
its material or experiential qualities and found that participants
were less troubled by a better deal available to others when they
were induced to think about the purchase as an experience.
Thus, across all our studies, we instantiated the categories in a
number of different ways, using a combination of actual and
hypothetical purchases. This, we believe, demonstrates the reality
and robustness of the categories, however difficult particular items
might be to distinguish in certain instances. In the end, the most
important distinction might be how an individual construes any
particular purchase, either as a possession or as an experience.
Indeed, the fuzzy boundary between the two categories can be
advantageous, as we showed in Study 6. The results of that study
suggest that it is possible to focus on the experiential aspects of
even those purchases that tend toward the material pole, with
corresponding hedonic benefits. When evaluating a new television,
one can think of it not as a thing to own, but as a way to gather with
family or friends. This may help prevent troubling comparisons
both during and after the decision-making process and promote
greater satisfaction with a purchase, especially over time.
In most of the experiments reported here (with Study 4 being an
exception), we asked participants either to recall an earlier pur-
chase decision or to imagine how they would react to a comparable
purchase by others. This could prompt concern that our findings
might misrepresent what actually happens in people’s real-life
purchase decisions either because our participants’ memories are
faulty or they cannot accurately intuit how they would react to
different material and experiential choices. But note that how
people think about their purchases in memory and how they think
they would react to them—and to others’ purchases—is part and
parcel of the phenomena we set out to investigate. A big part of
deciding what sort of purchase to make involves constructing
hypothetical outcomes and comparisons in order to forecast future
satisfaction. Thus, asking participants to imagine themselves in
many choice situations draws upon the very processes they would
use to assess their feelings if they were actually in those situations.
Furthermore, when participants were asked to recall past purchase
decisions (as in Studies 1 and 2), they were asked both about how
they felt about them at the time (which might indeed be subject to
some memory distortion) and about how they felt about them
currently (which is not). And how people feel about their pur-
chases in the fullness of time is a big part of their experience of
them—and a prominent focus of our research. Importantly, in
Study 4 we assessed participants’ reactions to tangible material
and experiential goods in the here and now, not hypothetical or
abstract entities, and found that participants were more troubled by
salient material comparisons than salient experiential comparisons.
Happiness Over Time
Another important difference between material and experiential
purchases is how people’s satisfaction with them tends to unfold
over time. From evidence obtained in Study 1 and in previous
research (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003), it appears that satisfac-
tion with material purchases tends to decrease over time, whereas
satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase. Even
initially satisfying material purchases are likely to deteriorate over
time; very few material goods improve with age. A new car does
not stay new for long, and trips to the mechanic only become more
frequent. Eventually, the car is less a source of happiness than of
annoyance—something to be replaced. A satisfying experience, in
contrast, often becomes even more positive over time as it is
embellished in memory. A wonderful weekend with friends can
live on in happy reminisces and rich stories for years to come.
Even an abysmal trip can become a good story, fun to retell as “the
time we forgot to pack mosquito repellent and sunscreen on our
backpacking trip” (Mitchell, Thompson, Peterson, & Cronk, 1997;
see also Wirtz, Kruger, Napa Scollon, & Diener, 2003).
Furthermore, because experiences are incorporated into one’s iden-
tity (Carter & Gilovich, 2009), the tendency to embellish them in
memory can draw upon many of the same intrapersonal processes that
lead to favorable self-assessments (Dunning, 2005). Unlike material
possessions, which are typically made to fill a specific, concrete
purpose, experiences are often purchased for a variety of different
reasons, both abstract and concrete. Because one can evaluate an
experience both abstractly and concretely, and judge it on many
different dimensions, it can be easier to find positive dimensions of
evaluation. Just as people tend to use self-serving definitions when
evaluating their own traits and abilities (Dunning, Meyerowitz, &
Holzberg, 1989), people can use self-serving criteria and different
levels of abstraction when evaluating another part of themselves, their
memory of an experience. For example, a wristwatch is primarily
evaluated on its time-keeping ability and its aesthetics. But a night out
at a restaurant can be evaluated either on its concrete dimensions (the
taste of the food, the cost of the cab ride) or more abstractly, in terms
of the goals it served (bonding with friends, trying something new),
depending, at times, on which leads to a more favorable evaluation. If
the food is substandard, one can focus on higher order goals, which
have considerable leeway in their interpretation and evaluation, par-
ticularly at greater temporal distance (Trope & Liberman, 2003).
The fact that many of the hedonic benefits of experiential purchases
are realized in the long term can make it hard to follow the implicit
message of this research—to spend one’s discretionary income on
experiences rather than possessions. Initially, material possessions can
be quite gratifying, exciting even, and the ephemeral nature of expe-
riences can make them seem frivolous or impractical. But there are
tangible benefits to experiential purchases, both in the short and long
term, that make their pursuit anything but frivolous. Consider their
implications for social relationships. Strong social connections, such
as those provided by romantic partners, family, and recreational or
civic organizations, are essential ingredients to psychological well-
being (Diener & Seligman, 2004; Myers, 2000; Myers & Diener,
1995). Experiences, much more than material possessions, tend to
encourage these types of social connections (see Kasser & Sheldon,
2002). We enjoy movies and meals with friends and vacations with
our families. Not only does companionship make such experiences
more enjoyable, experiences also strengthen the bonds of friendship.
As enjoyable as it might be to listen to music on a new MP3 player,
the headphones isolate us from those around us. What’s more, expe-
riences shared with loved ones are just the sorts of activities that
Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005; Sheldon & Lyubomir-
158 CARTER AND GILOVICH
sky, 2006) contended are the most critical to sustained well-being.
From many angles, the pursuit of experiences over possessions seems
to be the firmer path to happiness.
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Received February 26, 2008
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RELATIVE ENJOYMENT OF EXPERIENCES AND POSSESSIONS
... Second, people are more likely to talk about their experiential purchases than their material purchases , which makes them more likely to build social bonds with their audiences (Van Boven et al., 2010). Third, experiential purchases are less susceptible to social comparisons (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). As a result, the presence of something better does not diminish the satisfaction of experiential purchases, whereas it can have a detrimental impact on the satisfaction of material purchases (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). ...
... Third, experiential purchases are less susceptible to social comparisons (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). As a result, the presence of something better does not diminish the satisfaction of experiential purchases, whereas it can have a detrimental impact on the satisfaction of material purchases (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). ...
... However, Berry et al. (1987) found that feeling marginalized in the host country was the biggest stressor facing international migrants, while Mena et al. (1987) In terms of the consumer spending literature, existing studies focus on two separate research streams: material versus experiential purchases and prosocial spending (Aknin et al., 2018). The former suggests that experiential purchases can make people happier because they can fulfill their psychological need for relatedness , build social bonds with audiences (Van Boven et al., 2010), and are less susceptible to social comparisons (Carter & Gilovich, 2010). The prosocial spending literature points out that people become happier if they spend money on others rather than spending the same amount of money on themselves (Dunn et al., 2008). ...
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A lack of a sense of belonging in the host country has become one of the most common challenges facing international migrants in today's sociopolitical environment. Our two online experiments with 881 international migrant workers in the United States jointly demonstrate that, to cope with their lack of a sense of belonging in the host country, international migrants may spend money suboptimally: more on material purchases but less on experiential and prosocial purchases. More importantly, our studies suggest that prosocial purchases are more effective than experiential purchases in increasing international migrants’ subjective well‐being. This is because prosocial purchases can lead to both relatedness need satisfaction and beneficence, with each independently contributing to international migrants’ subjective well‐being. Our research suggests that public policymakers should address the social exclusion international migrants experience when moving to a new country because it can have a negative impact on their subjective well‐being. Our research further suggests that one way to mitigate social exclusion is to encourage international migrants to spend money on others rather than themselves.
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This literature review was aimed to determine what kind of antecedent factors that formed tourism experience through co-creation activities. Our research was also aimed to find out what kind of outcomes that generated after a tourist gained their experience from the co-creation processes. This research were utilized from various books and also several numbers of reputed indexed journals. From this literature review, researcher found that there were four factors that formed tourist's experience by co-creation that called by interaction, participation, sharing and customization. Next, researcher found that there were four impacts that raised from the process of co-creation experiences, such as satisfaction, feelings of proportion between expenditures and experiences that gained by tourists, happiness, and also memorable experiences. These literature review concluded some implications for tourism providers to applied the concept of co-creation in case of how to made an unique tourism experiences, so it can provided added values for both parties. ABSTRAK Kajian literatur ini bertujuan untuk menyelidiki faktor anteseden apa sajakah yang mendasari terbentuknya pengalaman wisata melalui kegiatan co-creation. Kajian ini juga bertujuan untuk mengetahui dampak apa sajakah yang ditimbulkan setelah wisatawan mendapatkan pengalaman wisata dari proses co-creation. Kajian ini dilakukan dengan memanfaatkan berbagai buku serta sejumlah jurnal terindeks bereputasi. Berdasarkan hasil dari kajian literatur ini, penulis menemukan bahwa terdapat empat faktor yang mendasari terjadinya proses co-creation experience yakni interaksi, partisipasi, sharing dan kustomisasi. temuan selanjutnya adalah terdapat empat dampak yang dihasilkan dari proses co-creation experience antara lain rasa puas, perasaan sebanding antara pengeluaran dengan pengalaman yang diperoleh, rasa bahagia, dan pengalaman yang berkesan. Kajian literatur ini menyimpulkan beberapa implikasi bagi penyedia jasa dibidang pariwisata untuk menerapkan konsep co-creation dalam membentuk pengalaman wisata supaya dapat memberikan nilai tambah bagi wisatawan dan bagi penyedia jasa pariwisata.
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