Why making our own choices is more satisfying when pleasure is the goal

August 24, 2010

When it comes to our own pleasure, we like having a choice, but when it comes to utilitarian goals, we're just as happy being told what to do, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Imagine a patron at a fixed-menu restaurant who is dining either for the sheer pleasure of tasting the food or to achieve some higher-level goal—for example, a better understanding of the local culture," write authors Simona Botti (London Business School) and Ann L. McGill (University of Chicago). "In these two cases, would the diner's satisfaction with the restaurant's pre-determined choices differ from the satisfaction she would experience with her own menu choices?"

The authors conducted four experiments in which they presented participants the same choice-set options but varied the process (how the item was chosen) and the choice goal. In all the studies, the participants could either personally choose one of the options or they were assigned one of the options by a third party. The participants were told either that the goal was simply to enjoy the outcome of the choice (hedonic goal) or to reach a higher-end consequence (utilitarian goal).

In the first study, participants were exposed to a selection of different virtual museum visits after being assigned to be either tourists visiting the museum for fun or art students visiting to research their theses. In subsequent studies, participants chose (or were assigned) massages, gourmet food, and workout regimens.

"Results consistently show that the outcome of a self-made choice is more satisfying than the outcome of an externally made choice when the goal is hedonic, but when the goal is utilitarian there is no difference in satisfaction between choosers and non-choosers," the authors write. "A lack of choice feels less like a deprivation of the capacity to determine one's own fate when the choice is utilitarian than when it is hedonic."

Companies like airlines or restaurants that cater to business customers and retailers that offer necessities should take heed. "In these contexts, rather than being dissatisfied by the lack of , consumers may end up just as happy," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Does mood matter? How you feel influences what you'll buy, says study

More information: Simona Botti and Ann L. McGill. "The Locus of Choice: Personal Causality and Satisfaction with Hedonic and Utilitarian Decisions." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2011. journals.uchicago.edu/jcr

Related Stories

Too many choices can spoil the research

June 26, 2008

The more choices people get, the less consistent they are in making those choices, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. The study's findings may affect the way researchers examine consumer choices.

Recommended for you

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.