The enjoyment of activities and new items decreases as time goes on — the twenty-fifth bite of a chocolate bar is often less enjoyable than the first. However, researchers wondered how knowing the price of a given product might affect the experience of declining excitement.

Brent McFerran, an associate professor in marketing at the Beedie School of Business, recently published a study that explains how the presence of the price accelerates the rate at which we feel decreased enjoyment over time through repeated consumption.

McFerran ran some tests using music where he had participants listen to songs that they said they liked and after each song he asked them how much they were enjoying themselves. Half of the participants saw the song name and the associated price — roughly a dollar — in each of the trials. The other half of the group never saw the price.

McFerran discovered that, for the group who knew the price, their enjoyment was the same for the first couple songs but, as time went on, the presence of that price decreased their enjoyment of the experience much faster than for those blissfully unaware of the price.

“We found the same thing with food,” he said.

McFerran conducted the same type of study with gumball machines where participants inserted dimes to get a little candy or the machines were rigged and did not require any money at all.

“In all cases, the participants weren’t using their own money, we provided them [with] the money so it’s not like the decrease in enjoyment can be attributed to actually paying,” McFerran noted. “But it was just the mere presence of that price decreased the enjoyment.”

McFerran also explained that pricing information is often associated with decreased relaxation or increased impatience.

“The person might become more critical of the experience and maybe that’s contributing to some of the effect,” he said. Plus, “consumers don’t really like to feel nickels and dimes and so even if you’re not paying it, perhaps seeing this price information is causing you to maybe think about the values you’re receiving in this context.”

However, as a consumer, perhaps there are times when thinking about prices can be good.

“For many of us trying to monitor our spending or to decrease our junk food intake for instance, maybe thinking about the price of that unhealthy snack will decrease your enjoyment and therefore make you eat a little bit less. . . which would be good for your health,” McFerran added.  

Currently, the researchers are looking into identifying why this effect emerges.

“We have some data . . . but the strength of that data and the number of studies that we’ve tested that have shown that pattern is smaller than the number of studies we have kind of showing the basic effect itself. We started with uncovering the basic effect and later on [we will] try to understand it,” said McFerran.

“The data regarding the process evidence or the mechanism data is not quite as conclusive as the data on basic effects yet,” he added.

For the next phase of the project, McFerran and his research team will be working to identify the psychological mechanism that underpins why this is happening.

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