Social forces and hedonic adaptation
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Consumers acquire products to enhance their lives, but the happiness from these acquisitions generally decreases with the passage of time. This process of hedonic adaptation plays an integral role in post-acquisition consumer satisfaction, product disposal and replacement behavior, and the "hedonic treadmill" that partially drives the relationship between consumption and happiness. Humans are social animals, however, and we know little about the relationship between the social environment and hedonic adaptation. My dissertation addresses this gap by exploring the moderating role of social presence (Essay 1) and self-concepts (Essay 2) on hedonic adaptation to products. Essay 1 explores how social presence affects hedonic adaptation to products. Research on general happiness has shown that significantly positive life events tend to maintain their positivity for longer periods of time when they involve active social interactions. I examine a more common situation in the domain of product consumption, i.e., the presence of others during consumption, and test whether hedonic adaptation to products is moderated by public contexts. By tracking happiness with products over time, I show that a "social audience" (i.e., the presence of others and the perception that those others notice the consumer) moderates hedonic adaptation through a consumer's inference of the social audience perspective. Inferring that the social audience is admiring one's product slows down adaptation, and inferring that the social audience is negatively viewing one's product accelerates adaptation. Essay 2 explores the role the identity-relevance of a product plays in hedonic adaptation. Extant research illustrates that consumers avoid consuming identity-inconsistent products in order to avoid dissonance arising from product choices conflicting with important self-concepts. I show that dissonance can also arise from consuming identity-consistent products because of the force of hedonic adaptation. I provide evidence that consumers feel uncomfortable experiencing declining happiness with identity-consistent products and thus resist hedonic adaptation to such products in order to resolve the dissonance.
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