One just got to love the immense plasticity of our brains and bodies, their flexibility to change to serve us the best they can. In subtle, ingenious, and shrewd ways, they are always engaged in a dance of creation and recreation, orchestrated by the need to keep us alive and well. A great example of such mechanism is compensation – our ability to make up for a lack in one area with a boost in another. It illustrates well the kind of changes we constantly go through, even though often time we don’t recognize them. You might even argue that the different ways in which we compensate for one thing with another constitute a large part of what we call personality, or character, or identity.
A study recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology provides a very curious instance of compensatory behaviour in consumption context. In five experiments, the authors sought to understand how our consumption behaviour changes when we are experiencing a romantic crush, i.e. a situation in which one is developing feelings for another without these feelings being revealed yet. What did they find? To being with, when people have a crush, they seek more variety in their consumption in unrelated contexts. For example, consumers preferred a yoghurt bundle with a variety of flavours (vs single flavour) and they consume a wider variety of snacks when they experience a romantic crush.
Even more intriguing is the mechanism behind this behaviour. One of the defining characteristics of this crush phase of a potential relationship is the lack of control we all experience. As the authors put it, “the experience of romantic crush is likely to lower people’s sense of control in the romantic relationship for the reason that the experience, as an unreciprocated relationship, is not wholly positive. Because people experiencing romantic crush are not able to receive a reciprocal response from the desired target, whether a romantic relationship will begin is highly uncertain. It is known that uncertainty regarding events and outcomes of an experience can lead to a feeling of lack of control.” It is exactly this lack of control that is driving us to seek variety in consumption context.
In an effort to compensate (misguided some would say), for the feeling of loss of control, we look for situations whose outcome we can control. Choice “is considered a form of exerting control over and mastering one’s environment”, thus looking for and experiencing variety increases our sense of independence and agency.
On that note, perceived control, or the lack of it thereof, has been shown to influence a myriad of behaviours. To give just a couple of examples: consumers tend to prefer utilitarian products when experiencing loss of control; “When personal control is threatened, consumers prefer logos, products and environments that are tangibly or intangibly bounded over those that are unbounded.”; “Poor consumers who perceive low economic mobility and thus low sense of control will seek more variety in consumption”
The kinds of adjustments in our behaviour our brains will implement to maintain balance is simply amazing and we are going to keep exploring them – stay tuned for more insights. My best wishes for an inspiring day and remember – everything communicates, everything impacts.
All quotations are based on: Romantic Crushes Promote Variety‐Seeking Behavior; Xun (Irene) Huang Ping Dong; Journal of Consumer Psychology, volume 29: 226-242