The Opposite of Satiation: Motivational Priming As an Aftereffect of a Pleasurable Consumption Experience

Peter J. DePaulo, University of Missouri-St. Louis
ABSTRACT - A recent focus of interest in consumer research has been on satiation, the process by which consuming a product leads to a temporary decrease in the person's desire to consume the same product again. This paper explores the possibility that there are circumstances under which consumption can have the opposite aftereffect -- a transient increase in motivation to continue consumption.
[ to cite ]:
Peter J. DePaulo (1986) ,"The Opposite of Satiation: Motivational Priming As an Aftereffect of a Pleasurable Consumption Experience", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 192-197.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 192-197


Peter J. DePaulo, University of Missouri-St. Louis

[The video game experiment reported in this article was funded by a Summer Research Fellowship from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.]


A recent focus of interest in consumer research has been on satiation, the process by which consuming a product leads to a temporary decrease in the person's desire to consume the same product again. This paper explores the possibility that there are circumstances under which consumption can have the opposite aftereffect -- a transient increase in motivation to continue consumption.


In contrast to the traditional emphasis on information processing, a recent focus of consumer research has been on non-cognitive aspects of consumption, such as emotions and experiences (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). One example of this interest is a series of articles on satiation (McAlister 1979, 1982) and related constructs such as variety seeking (Faison 1977; McAlister and Pessemier 1982), novelty seeking (Hirschman 1980), and optimal stimulation level (Raju 1980).

Satiation can be described as a process by which consumption of a product results in a temporary reduction in motivation to consume the product again. The decrease in motivation may generalize to an entire product class (e.g., finishing a big meal suppresses desire for all kinds of foods), or, as in McAlister's models, the effect may be specific to particular attributes (e.g., the regular cola drinker chooses the "Uncola" as a change of Dace).

Satiation effects appear to be noncognitive and nonassociative in the sense that they require neither information acquisition nor instrumental learning nor classical conditioning. For example, food-satiated persons stop eating even if they have not acquired any new, unfavorable information about the foot (cognitive learning). Likewise, satiation occurs even if eating has not had any punishing consequence (instrumental learning), and did not happen to occur at the same time as some unpleasant external event (classical conditioning). Instead, the satiation is simply the result of the direct physiological consequences of eating a certain amount within a certain period of time. Furthermore, since satiation does not depend on either information acquisitioning or conditioning, it should be independent of the consumer's level of involvement with the product.

The concept of satiation seems to be especially applicable to products which provide hedonic experiences, such as foods, movies, and games. This paper explores the possibility that consuming these kinds of products can have a noncognitive effect that is in the opposite direction -- an increase in motivation to consume the product again. Consider, for example, the common-sense idea that if one wants to avoid eating too many potato chips at a party, one should not eat any at all. The rationale for this idea seems to be that eating a small amount of chips induces a 'taste craving' (Solomon 1977b), i.e., arousal of one's desire to eat more of them. In the words of an old potato chip commercial, 'I bet you can't eat just one." In experimental psychology, the term "priming" has been given to the enhancement effect of exposure to a reinforcer on operant behavior motivated by that same reinforcer (for a review see Eiserer and Ramsay 1981).

Analogous priming effects, though in dramatically different form, appear in drug addiction. Sufficient exposure to pharmacologically addictive substances such as opiates results in physical dependence, as evident in the withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms of withdrawal, which appear soon after the "high' from the last dose of the drug is gone, are extremely unpleasant but they can be eliminated by taking another dose of the drug (Jaffe 1980). Hence, it is assumed that the withdrawal state motivates the addict to use the drug again. Another illustration is the advice commonly given to recovering alcoholics: to abstain from alcoholic beverages entirely instead of trying to become !'social drinkers-- (Miller 1983). This advice presupposes that even a small amount of alcohol might make it hard for the individual to resist taking another drink, thus initiating a vicious cycle that could reinstate problem drinking. These considerations imply that, for the addicted individual, the immediate effect of a drug dose is priming rather than satiation.

This is not to imply that motivation to eat potato chips should have the same intensity or the same physiological substrates as motivation to consume pharmacologically addictive drugs. Nonetheless, snack foods and addictive drugs both can function as reinforcers, and it is reasonable to hypothesize that they can engender some analogous patterns of behavior. Further, within the past decade, researchers in the behavioral and biological sciences have begun to examine seriously the possibility of important similarities among phenomena as diverse as opiate addiction, alcoholism, obesity, compulsive gambling, and the habitual consumption of coffee and cigarettes (Levison, Gerstein, and Maloff 1983).

Moreover, some commonalities found among drug and nondrug habits actually are physiological. One example is the recent discovery that the brain contains naturally occurring, opiate-like substances (for a review see Adler 1980). These neurochemicals, called endorphins, may mediate a variety of habitual behaviors such as opiate use, social attachment (Herman and Panksepp 1978), and exercising (Dearman and Francis 1983). Another example is the development of physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms in people whose diets contain too much of a specific food (Randolf 1978).

In the 2 x 2 classification in Table 1, the effects of consumption on subsequent motivation to consume the same product are categorized according to the direction and nature of the effect. The two top panels represent processes which can be considered associative. On a cognitive level, the consumption experience permits the individual to acquire information about the product's attributes. Whether subsequent motivation is increased or decreased depends on the extent to which the attributes that the individual associates with the product are or are not satisfying. From the perspective of behavioral learning theory, consuming a product permits operant and classical conditioning to occur. Although operant and classical conditioning need not involve cognition (Hull 1951), both can be viewed as associative processes (Mackintosh 1974). For example, the response of using a product may become associated with a pleasurable consequence through operant conditioning. Likewise, through classical conditioning, an otherwise neutral stimulus such as a package can become a conditioned stimulus through association with unconditioned stimuli (UCSs) such as food within the package or the presence of companions with whom the product is consumed. The direction of the conditioning effects would depend on whether the consequences or UCSs correlated with consumption are reinforcing (rewarding) or punishing (aversive).



In contrast, the effects in the two bottom panels of Table l appear to be nonassociative. Eating enough of a food at one sitting eventually will satiate the individual, whether or not any new associations involving the food are acquired during the meal. The party-goer fears that eating one potato chip will prime him (i.e., reduce his will power to avoid eating too many potato chips), even though he may be so familiar with that brand of chips that he is unlikely to learn anything new about chem.

A second way in which conditioning and information acquisition may differ from satiation and priming is in the duration of the effects. Whereas learned associations seem to be able to persist for years in long-term memory, priming and satiation seem to dissipate within a relatively short time. For example, some priming effects can dissipate in a matter of minutes (DePaulo and Hoffman 1980). Some may last much longer: withdrawal symptoms of an opiate addict undergoing cold turkey treatment may persist more than a week (Jaffe 1980), but even that parameter is short compared to how long the addict can be expected to remember what the drug states were like. Hence, learning theorists typically postulate that relative duration is one variable that separates true learning from other experienced-based behavioral changes, such as satiation and fatigue (Hilgard and Bower 1981).


Opponent-Process Theory

One theoretical approach that teals explicitly with addiction and priming is the opponent-process theory of motivation and emotion (Solomon 1977a, 1977b, 1980; Solomon and Corbit 1973; Hoffman and Solomon 1974). The theory assumes that functionally similar physiological processes underlie virtually all emotional reactions. These processes ensure that when a pleasurable experience is repeated with sufficient intensity or frequency it will have an unpleasant motivational aftereffect. For example, the pleasurable sensations from drug highs, tasty foods, and companionship are assumed to be followed by aversive states that can be called drug cravings, taste cravings, and loneliness, respectively. The aftereffect is assumed to motivate the person because the unpleasant feeling can be eliminated by resuming contact with the pleasurable stimulation (e.g., re-dosing with the drug). The theory also assumes that unpleasant experiences can produce pleasurable aftereffects.

A full description of opponent-process theory is beyond the scope of this paper, but two key assumptions will be noted here because of their special relevance to the study of priming and habitual consumption. One is that prior experience with the emotion-arousing stimulus strengthens the aftereffect so that it is more intense and longer lasting. Thus, the first few times a person takes an addictive drug, each high is followed by only a slight, short-lived craving to consume it again. However, after the individual has had the drug often enough, then the end of a high is followed by the long, intense craving known as the withdrawal syndrome (unless, of course, the addict avoids or stops the withdrawal syndrome by re-dosing).

The second key assumption is that the motivational aftereffect can be classically conditioned to environmental stimuli that are present when the emotion-arousing stimulus is experienced. Opiate addicts who have gone through withdrawal and have abstained from opiates for extended periods seem to experience withdrawal symptoms when they enter places where they have consumed the drugs in the past, and when they encounter companions who had been present during prior drug use (Wikler 1971).

Opponent-Process theory has been introduced to the marketing literature by Oliver (1980), in his analysis of affective reactions of consumers to disconfirmation of expectations in retail settings. In basic research, the theory has been examined in a variety of laboratory and field studies involving both human and animal subjects (e.g., Benton, Banks, and Vogler 1982; Craig and Siegel 1980; DePaulo and Hoffman 1980; Solomon 1980; Piliavin, Callero, and Evans 1982). Generally these studies have supported the model.

Consumption-Induced Moods

A second theoretical approach that may help in explaining priming is the analysis of consumers' moots (for a review see Gardner and Vandersteel 1984). In a typical mood-induction study, subjects are observed immediately after an experience that might affect mood, such as receiving cookies (Isen and Levin 1972) and winning a computer game (Isen et al. 1978). Since leisure experiences may alter one's mood (Mannell 1980), and since moods, like other emotions, can be expected to have motivational dimensions (Young 1973), it is reasonable to hypothesize that consuming a pleasurable product could result in a mood change that motivates continued consumption of the same product. In other words, using a product might put the individual in the mood to keep using it. However, it is also logically possible that a mood change resulting from consuming a product might motivate the person to something else -- an effect which would be in the direction of satiation. Thus, mood analysis does not make specific predictions about whether the effect of consumption will be satiation or priming. Nevertheless, as will be explained below, mood concepts may be useful tools for description and measurement.

Opponent-process theory can be combined with mood analysis in the study of priming. Specifically, the unpleasant state which opponent-process theory postulates as the aftereffect of a pleasurable experience may be characterized as a mood. Thus, techniques developed to measure moods may be helpful in the empirical investigation of priming. In fact, mood measures have been used to test the prediction of opponent-process theory that unpleasant experiences have pleasant emotional aftereffects (Piliavin et al. 1982).


Non-Experimental Data on Product SampLes

Evidence of food priming in a marketing context is provided by Steinberg and Yalch (1978). In their field study, obese supermarket patrons who took a free sample of a doughnut while shopping were found to overspend (exceed their planned total purchase for the store visit) by a greater amount than obese patrons who did not take a sample. The authors' interpretation was consistent with priming: ...eating foot heightens its taste salience and this motivates obese persons to go shopping and buy more than intended. However, a satiation effect (less overspending after taking a sample) was observed for nonobese shoppers.

Video Game Experiment

The author has collected laboratory data which suggest that playing a video game can generate both priming and satiation effects. The study described here has been reported in detail elsewhere (DePaulo 1985).

In this experiment, college students who had prior experience with the Pac-Man video game were randomly assigned to two groups, and were run individually in a controlled-length session during which they played Pac-Man continuously. SubJects in the 10-minute group played Pac-Man until at least 9 minutes had elapsed. The experimenter waited until the subject completed the game that was in progress at the end of 9 minutes, then stopped the session. Since a single game of Pac-Man typically lasted 1-3 minutes, the average session length for this group was approximately 10 minutes. In the other condition (the 3-minute group), subjects played Pac-Man until the end of the game that was in progress after two minutes had elapsed.

Immediately before and immediately after the game session the subjects rated their current desire to play Pac-Man on a Likert scale. Over the next 18 minutes, the subjects completed a lengthy questionnaire, ostensibly to determine their state of mind during the game session. Actually, this questionnaire served as a filler activity to keep the subjects occupied for at least 18 minutes. While working on this task, the subjects were interrupted every two minutes and again asked to rate their desire to resume playing Pac-Man.



Figure 1 shows the mean ratings. The groups did not differ statistically on pre-game desire to play Pac-Man, but the 3-minute group mean was significantly higher than the 10-minute group mean on the first post-game rating, and significantly higher than the pre-game mean for the 3-minute group. The figure also shows the gradual dissipation of the enhancement effect in the 3-minute group, as confirmed by a statistically reliable interaction of Groups by Time in the data from the 10 post-game ratings.

The effect of the 3-minute game session seems to have been a temporary increase in desire to play Pac-Man. This finding is consistent with a priming model. However, the finding that desire to play was lower immediately after the long session than after the short session is consistent with a satiation model, because more satiation of desire to play should occur in a longer session.

How can these two findings, which might seem conflicting at first glance, be explained? As proposed by Solomon (1977b) in his analysis of motivational aspects of eating, it is possible that both priming and satiation could be operating during the same consumption experience; the effect that is manifest in the subject's behavior would be the one that happens to be stronger under the circumstances of the observation. This possibility can be illustrated with the intuitive example of eating potato chips. Eating just a very small amount of potato chips seems to be sufficient for inducing a taste craving, but if much more of them are consumed in the same sitting, then satiation becomes strong enough to overwhelm the taste craving and cause the person to stop eating.

Why, then, was taking the doughnut sample followed by a priming effect for some shoppers (those classified as obese ) and a satiation effect for the other, nonobese shoppers? One possible reason is that the doughnut sample was a relatively small amount for an obese person but, for the nonobese, the same size sample was enough to produce more satiation than priming. Another possibility, suggested by Steinberg and Yalch (1978), is that nonobese people are simply not as sensitive to the taste of a food; this would imply that any amount of a food is less likely to produce a taste craving (observable priming effect) in a nonobese person.

The results of the video game experiment are consistent with the hypothesis that a priming effect will be manifest in behavior after a small amount of consumption, while satiation will be evident after a larger amount. Hence, playing Pac-Man for three minutes may have been like eating one potato chip at a party -- it induces more priming than satiation. Playing Pac-Man for 10 minutes may have been like eating just enough potato chips so that there was about as much satiation as priming -there was no significant difference in the pre- and post-game ratings for this group. This analysis simply assumes that a small amount of consumption produces more priming than satiation, while a large amount of consumption produces more satiation than priming.

Basic Research on Operant Reinforcement

Experimental studies of animal behavior have revealed priming effects with a variety of species and reinforcers (for a review see Eiserer and Ramsay 1981). With foot or water as reinforcers, the dual priming-satiation effects suggested above are clear. That is, giving the animal free (noncontingent) food or water instigates the animal to perform an operant response that it already has been trained to perform, if the free amount is small. Giving the animal a larger noncontingent amount suppresses subsequent operant responding.

However, there are other reinforcers that generate strong priming effects with little or no satiation. These include presentation of an imprinting stimulus to a duckling (Eiserer and Hoffman 1973) and electrical stimulation of so-called pleasure centers in the brain (Gallistel 1973; Katz 1979). With these reinforcers, a larger amount results not in satiation but in an even stronger priming effect. A related consideration is the observation that depriving the animal of contact with these reinforcers does not increase motivation to consume them (DePaulo and Hoffman 1980); in contrast, very strong effects of deprivation are obtained with reinforcement by food and water. Thus, priming and satiation seem to be mediated by separate physiological systems. Whether a particular reinforcer engenders priming, satiation, or both would depend on the extent to which each system operates when that reinforcer is encountered.

In the case of foods and other products for which the desire to consume is increased by deprivation, how would priming and satiation be affected by the amount of prior deprivation? The simplest possibility is that deprivation raises the baseline level of motivation and that priming and satiation raise and lower (respectively) this level. In other words, deprivation may produce a main effect on motivation without interacting with priming or satiation. However, it is possible that some interactions will occur tue to floor and ceiling effects as illustrated in Figure 2.



At a high level of deprivation (top curve), the priming effect of a large amount of food may be hart to observe empirically because of a ceiling effect (motivation is already high and cannot be increased much further). This is consistent with a finding obtained by Steinberg and Yalch (1978) when they compared data from obese shoppers who were deprived (said that they hat not eaten within four hours before entering the store) with data from nondeprived obese shoppers. The increase in overspending associated with eating the foot sample (priming effect) was smaller for the deprived than for the nondeprived obese shoppers. At the other extreme (bottom curve in Figure 2), there would be room for a priming effect but not for a satiation effect, since a non-deprived person's motivation to eat is already very low. This suggestion is consistent with another finding by Steinberg and Yalch: the decrease in overspending among nonobese shoppers who took a foot sample (satiation effect) was observed only among those nonobese shoppers who were deprived. Thus, it should be easiest to observe both priming and satiation effects at an intermediate level of deprivation (middle curve).

This interpretation of the Steinberg and Yalch (1978) findings rests on post-hoc assumptions. Further research is needed to test the ceiling and floor effects hypothesized here.


The aim of this paper is to encourage consumer researchers to investigate the possibility that motivational aftereffects of product use can involve priming as well as satiation. However, there may be difficulties in empirically isolating the effects of priming from associative learning. When subjects' motivation to resume consumption is enhanced as a result of prior consumption, there is always the possibility that they actually did learn something new during the observed or manipulated consumption episode, even if they have had substantial prior experience with the product. Of course, if the observed post-consumption increase in motivation seems very short-lived, one might feel confident in assuming that the effect was due to priming rather than associative learning, but this begs the question: how rapid must the decline in the effect be in order to conclude that this represents the dissipation of a motivational state rather than the forgetting of a learned association?

It should be noted that this same confounding can occur in studies of satiation. Specifically, if consumption leads to a decrease in motivation to consume the product, it is possible that subjects learned something unfavorable about the product during the consumption episode, and that the recovery of subjects' desire to resume consumption represents the forgetting of the unfavorable association instead of the dissipation of satiation.


Three steps could be taken to minimize the confounding of associative and nonassociative effects in experiments on priming and satiation. First, the subject pool could be limited to people who have already had considerable experience with the product under study and are very familiar with its features so that little or no additional learning is likely to occur during the experiment. Second, an attempt should be made to show both priming and satiation in the same experiment by having subjects consume both smaller and larger amounts. It would seem unlikely that subjects discovered something good about the product when they consumed a little of it and then discovered something bad about it when they consumed more of it, especially if the subjects were experienced users of the product. Under these circumstances the nonassociative interpretations (priming and satiation) would be more plausible. Third, an attempt could be made to measure associative effects directly through, say, attitude or perception measures. For example, if consumption during the experiment does not change subjects' ratings of the product's quality but does change their momentary desire to resume consumption, then the effect would appear to be priming or satiation, not associative learning.


A basic objective of further investigation should be to arrive at a better understanding of when the immediate aftereffect of consumption is an increase in motivation to consume again (priming) and when it is a decrease (satiation). Based on the research reviewed in this paper, four factors can be hypothesized.

First, the amount consumed appears to be critical. The greater the amount consumed, the more likely it is that satiation rather than priming would be observed. Second, the animal behavior experiments indicate that the relative strength of priming vs. satiation depends on the type of reinforcer. By analogy this indicates that the type of product may be a determinant. More specifically, the animal studies imply that priming should be evident under a narrower range of conditions for products that replenish biological deficits (e.g., food) than for products that seem unrelated to survival needs (e.g., video games). Replenishing a biological deficit results in satiation, which could mask evidence of priming. Third, opponent-process theory postulates that prior consumption experience increases the strength of priming processes (as in the development of drug addiction). Fourth, the Steinberg and Yalch findings point to personal characteristics such as obesity.

In summary, prior research provides suggestions on what some of the regularities may be, but a more comprehensive model is needed.


The most favorable view of marketing is that firms which achieve success are those that offer products which satisfy consumers' wants. Implicit in this view is the assumption that, if consumers' use of a product increases their desire to use the product again, then the product must have satisfied some pre-existing want. This assumption implies that the increase in desire to use the product again oust be an associative effect, i.e., the consumer learns that the product has want-satisfying capabilities. Galbraith's (1958) classic criticism of this benevolent view of marketing is that the wants satisfied by products are not necessarily pre-existing but are created by marketers through advertising.

This paper does not take a stand on Galbraith's contention that advertising creates new wants. However, the possibility of priming as an aftereffect of consumption suggests another way, besides advertising, in which a want can be created. Specifically, consumption by itself may generate a type of motivation (the enhanced desire to consume the same product again) that did not exist before the product was first consumed.

To be precise, we need to distinguish between two sources of a person's total desire to resume consumption of the product: motivation that is independent of the product and motivation that is a result of exposure to the product. For example, a person may start playing a video game out of boredom (motivation independent of the product, or pre-existing ). After playing for a short time some boredom might still exist, but the person's desire to resume playing may be greater than his or her original desire to start playing (as in the 2-minute group in the video game experiment); a priming process has increased the person's total desire to resume playing. Hence, the person plays the game longer than is necessary for boredom to be relieved, since priming alone can motivate extended playing on that occasion.

The only role that marketing may play in creating this kind of want is indirect: a promotion or some other marketing effort may instigate trial of the product on a particular occasion, and the initial bout of consumption, in turn, instigates prolonged consumption through a priming process. This is in contrast to Galbraith's view that advertising creates new wants directly.


As explained above, a priming process can cause a person to consume a product beyond the point where the preexisting want which initiated the bout of consumption is satisfied. This situation is very clear in drug addiction. Frustration, social pressure, thrill-seeking, or some other drug-independent factor may motivate initial use of drug, but in the addicted individual repeated drug use can be motivated by the aftereffects of drug use itself, i.e., the withdrawal syndrome. Analogously, hunger may motivate a person to start a meal, but priming (taste craving) may be responsible for some overeating.

Thus, a major application of the concept of priming should be in the analysis of consumption which is so compulsive that it is a serious problem. Examples of such phenomena include not only drug abuse but also leisure pursuits that ordinarily seem harmless, such as playing video games and exercising. Arcade video games seem to be so involving that some communities, concerned about truancy, have enacted ordinances to restrict access to arcades by adolescents (Newsweek 1981). Avid joggers, in extreme cases, choose to run even when they have injuries that make running painful, and their exercise addiction- seems to disrupt their interpersonal relations (Morgan 1979). Several scholars recently have called for consumer researchers to address such problems (Bloch and Bruce 1984; Shimp and Dyer 1979). Priming processes, which can motivate consumers to continue consumption beyond the point where pre-existing wants are satisfied, may play a key role in compulsive consumption.

What can a person do to avoid this kind of excessive consumption? One solution lies in the fact that a priming effect is relatively transient. Thus, if a person can just refrain from further consumption for a relatively short time, the priming aftereffect should dissipate and no longer motivate resumption of consumption on that occasion. This solution is consistent with advice typically given to dieters on how to avoid eating too much at one meal: walk away from the table after you have eaten your caloric allocation for that meal and stay away from food. It is assumed that within minutes you will feel less hungry than you did immediately after you stopped eating. However, while this tactic may be relatively easy for the dieter, it can be agonizing for the opiate user, for whom the cold turkey' cessation of drug intake initiates a withdrawal syndrome that can last for days.


Certain conditions exist under which consumption of a pleasurable product temporarily increases motivation to consume it again (priming) instead of decreasing the motivation (satiation). This proposition is supported by intuitive considerations as well as by experimental and nonexperimental data from both human and animal studies. Priming cannot be understood with reference to the concepts of cognition and information processing that traditionally have been the dominant focus of the consumer behavior literature, nor can it be attributed to classical or operant conditioning. However, priming can be studied through two theoretical approaches which have recently attracted the attention of consumer researchers: opponent-process theory and mood analysis. Since priming can motivate prolonged or repeated consumption on a particular occasion, this kind of process may underlie compulsive consumption habits. More research is needed to identify the conditions under which the immediate aftereffect of consumption is priming rather than satiation.


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