It’s a cruel fact of human existence that with enough time, we can become bored with just about anything. Whether it’s a new car or a new dog, a great Indian dish or a great song, eventually the initial pleasure fades into something more mundane. Which doesn’t necessarily mean we come to dislike the thing in question, but rather that we habituate to its once tantalizing allure and simply enjoy it less. Even sex (gasp!) isn’t immune.
But reseachers who conducted a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research think that they’ve found a cure for habituated boredom. The trick, they say, is overcoming “variety amnesia” — our tendency to forget that we’ve been exposed to a variety of great things, be they people, food, music, movies, home furnishings or other — and instead focus our attention on the singular thing that no longer gives us the tingles.
To shake ourselves free from this negative trap, we must “dishabituate” by forcing ourselves to remember the variety of things we’ve experienced. So, for example, let’s say that you’ve become bored with a particular musical group you once couldn’t listen to enough. This research suggests that what you need to do it recall the variety of other songs from other musical groups that you’ve listened to since the last time you listened to your once-favorite band, and by doing so you’ll revive appreciation for your fave.
The researchers call this little head trick a simulation of “virtual variety,” which reduces satiation — the lessening of satisfaction over time — in a way similar to that of experiencing actual variety.
The study included three experiments, one involving experience with people, one with songs, and the third with jellybeans (yes, jellybeans); in all three cases, exposure to virtual variety had the effect of increasing enjoyment of the original thing in question.
A previous study discussed here showed that if you’re debating between spending your money on an object or on an experience, you should go with the experience. Experience usually includes connectedness with others, and over time the memories of the experience–and the feelings they elicit–have more staying power than the pleasure of owning something, which steadily decreases as we habituate.
The takeaway from all of this is hardly new, but worth repeating: variety and experience keep Jack from becoming a dull boy. Bon appetit.