Elements of Experiential Consumption: an Exploratory Study

Brian Lofman, University of Connecticut
[ to cite ]:
Brian Lofman (1991) ,"Elements of Experiential Consumption: an Exploratory Study", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 729-735.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 729-735


Brian Lofman, University of Connecticut

[The author gratefully acknowledges the support and invaluable assistance of Susan Spiggle and Robin Higie.]

An exploratory study was undertaken to uncover the elements of experiential consumption. Content analysis of respondent protocols indicates that there are six primary elements: setting, sensation, thought, feeling, activity, and evaluation. These inductively generated elements are similar to the deductive constructs in Hirschman and Holbrook's (1986) Thought-Emotion-Activity-Value (TEAV) Model. Differences in experiential consumption are highlighted by comparing the salience of factors in instrumental and hedonic consumption experiences. The results suggest that, in contrast to instrumental consumption, hedonic consumption involves relatively greater emotional processing and more activity and evaluation, but comparatively less overall cognitive processing and sensory stimulation.

Experience is the best teacher.



Researchers are increasingly finding and acknowledging that there is a broad range of consumption beyond brand choice and purchase behavior. Such recognition better reflects the fact that the verb, "to consume," can be defined in many ways: to use up; to squander, spend wastefully; to eat up, devour; to absorb the attention of, engross; to absorb the mental or emotional faculties; to take to oneself, receive into one's system, incorporate; to penetrate deeply; to possess entirely. These distinctions give a flavor for the varied nature of consumption and collectively point to the need to examine more broadly the realm of experiential consumption: the experiences consumers have while using, consuming, and possessing market offerings (e.g., see Belk 1988; Thompson, Locander, and Pollio 1989).

Studies based on assumptions implicit in the experiential perspective (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982) have emphasized esthetic products and emotional processing. Havlena and Holbrook (1986) studied eight broad types of human experience, only some of which involved market offerings. Additionally, in order to contrast two major typologies of emotion (Mehrabian and Russell 1974; Plutchik 1980), their research focused on experiences evoking strong feelings and emotions. Scholars need to gain a broader understanding of the differences in experiential consumption across the market offering spectrum.

The purpose of this research is twofold. The first objective is to identify inductively the elements of experiential consumption. The second objective is to compare the salience of these elements across consumption experiences reflecting differing value orientations. Research is conducted on consumption experiences involving extrinsically valued and intrinsically valued market offerings. The distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic values is reflected in two different types of consumption: instrumental consumPtion and hedonic consumption.


Psychological Theories

The instrumental/hedonic distinction in the consumer behavior literature is based on psychological theories, particularly those from the phenomenological or humanistic school that theorize a dichotomy in sensory perceptual states. As originally formulated by Koch (1956), behavior may be extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated. Whereas extrinsic motivation underlies consumption as a means toward an end (utilitarian or instrumental consumption), intrinsic motivation underlies consumption as an end in itself (hedonic consumption).

Schachtel (1959) contrasted two modes of perception, secondary autocentricity and allocentricity. In secondary autocentricity, the perceiver views objects in terms of the needs or uses they may serve, thereby engaging in problem solving and approach-avoidance behavior. In allocentric perception, the perceiver is completely absorbed in the object;

Maslow (1962) compared two types of cognitive activity, cognition and b-cognition. Cognition involves comparing, judging, and evaluating; b-cognition involves experiencing the object as a whole, apart from any particular purpose. Maslow's "being-psychology" is oriented to ends as opposed to means, such as end-experiences (pp. 7374).

In a review of psychological literature, Tellegen (1981) proposed fundamental differences between what he termed the instrumental and experiential sets. The instrumental set refers to "a state of readiness to engage in active, realistic, voluntary, and relatively effortful planning. decision making, and goal-directed behavior," whereas the experiential set represents "a state of receptivity or openness ... to undergo whatever experiential events, sensory or imaginal, that may occur, with a tendency to dwell on, rather than go beyond, the experiences themselves and the objects they represent" (p. 222).

Consumer Research

In the early 1980s, theorists began to question the assumption of the rational consumer and postulate that consumers engage in both cognitive and emotional processing (Zajonc 1480; Zajonc and Markus 1982). Researchers have made a conceptual distinction between behavior based on utilitarian or instrumental values and behavior based on pleasure seeking or hedonic values (e.g., see Tse, Belk, and Zhou 1989). Additionally, scholars have focused increasingly on hedonic consumption as a distinct area of study (Ahtola 1985; Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook et al. 1984).

Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) proposed an experiential perspective of consumer behavior as an alternative to the information processing and purchase decision making approach. Subsequently, they developed a framework that included value (Holbrook and Corfman 1985), cognition (Hirschman 1985a), emotion (Holbrook 1986), and holistic-intuitive consciousness (Hirschman 1985b) in experiential consumption. Hirschman and Holbrook (1986) proposed the Thought-Emotion-Activity-Value (TEAV) Model, suggesting that it encompasses all forms of consumption, including those implicit in the Cognition-Affect-Behavior-Satisfaction (CABS) Model (Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell 1968; Howard and Sheth 1969; Nicosia 1966). Each of the four constructs in TEAV is a broadened conceptualization of the respective constructs in CABS. In addition to cognition, "Thought" includes dreaming, imagining, and fantasizing. "Emotion" involves diverse types of feelings, expressive behaviors, and physiological responses. "Activity" includes physical and mental events relating to both action and reaction. "Value" pertains to evaluative judgments in consumption. TEAV assumes that consumption experiences are complex processes and suggests interdependencies among its constructs and hence nonlinearity.

In sum, researchers have painted two contrasting, though not necessarily opposing, pictures of the consumer. One stream of research -the instrumentally oriented -- assumes a rational, information processing problem solver who follows a purchase decision making strategy to fulfill a specific need. A second stream -- the hedonic orientation -- assumes an experiential being who consumes for enjoyment. Collectively, theory and research indicates that the consumer is both instrumentally and hedonically oriented, suggesting that experiential consumption may be classified as primarily hedonic, primarily instrumental, or some mix of the two.


The purpose of the present study is to uncover elements in experiential consumption and to contrast the salience of these elements in instrumental consumption (IC) and hedonic consumption (HC). The research requires respondents to report on experiences involving extrinsically and intrinsically valued market offerings.

Method and Measurement

One hundred and four undergraduate students at a northeastern university responded to a pencil and paper questionnaire. The instructions used to elicit an IC experience read "Some market offerings are sought, acquired, and/or consumed for their use in achieving some goal or end state. That is, they are means to some other end, not intrinsically valued for themselves." The instructions used to elicit an HC experience read "Other market offerings are sought, acquired, and/or consumed for the experiences they provide. That is, the experiences during consumption represent ends in themselves". After reading the definitions, subjects responded to: "Think of a market offering that fits into the [first/second] category. Please make a list of the images, associations, and words which reflect what you think and how you feel when you recall your most recent experience in using or consuming that market offering. Number each item on the list. Each item may be a single word, a phrase, or more.' This open end approach was used to elicit verbal statements reflecting feelings, perceptions, desired states, and so on which relate to the experiential domain (Fennell 1985, p. 548). No time limit was set for protocol completion, but most subjects completed both protocols within fifteen minutes. One hundred and two protocols were generated for each type of consumption experience.

Content Analysis

Subsets of the protocols were content analyzed to determine the appropriate classification scheme. Category development progressed through several stages; the number of categories increased over the iterative coding process. After the categories had been developed inductively, they were collapsed into a smaller number of categories representing the elements of experiential consumption, including Setting, Sensation, Thought, Feeling, Activity, and Evaluation. The operationalization for each category is provided in the Appendix. Two judges other than the author independently coded-the protocols. The inter-judge reliability (percentage of agreement) for all responses is 93 percent, ranging from 84 percent to 98 percent for the categories and subcategories. A third judge resolved all disagreements.

Comparison with TEAV Model Constructs

The Thought, Feeling, Activity, and Evaluation elements derived in this empirical study are similar to the respective constructs in Hirschman and Holbrook's (1986) TEAV Model. "Thought" encompasses not only cognitive processing regarding the market offering itself, but also imaginal processing as reflected in associations made during consumption. "Feeling" in this research is equivalent to "Emotion," but better represents protocol responses such as "makes me feel happy" and "feeling thirsty." "Activity" in this study is the same as its counterpart in TEAV. "Evaluation" is a more appropriate term than the broader conceptualization "Value." In this research, evaluative responses reflected self-oriented (economic, hedonic) value but not other-oriented value, which is more likely to be evident in human relational experiences rather than market offering consumption. "Setting" in this study is related to "Environment (Information)" -- an input to the consumption process in TEAV -- in that objects in the immediate environment serve as sources of information for the consumer.



There are two minor differences between the inductively generated elements in this research and the deductively generated constructs in TEAV. First, whereas functional and psychosocial benefits are included within 'Thought" in this study, they appear to correspond to the reasons, motives, wants, and wishes treated within the "Person (Motivation)" construct, another input to the consumption process in TEAV. Functional and psychosocial benefits as well as concrete and abstract attributes are links in a means-end chain, which is a hierarchical knowledge structure containing attributes, consequences (benefits), and values (Gutman 1982; Peter and Olson 1989). Beyond its use in understanding product knowledge, then, the means-end chain may be useful in understanding experiential consumption.

Second, since sensory imagery is a mental event, it could be considered a part of "Thought" as it is in TEAV (see Hirschman 1985a; Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). However, "Sensation" is treated as a distinct element in this study to reflect the importance of the translation or interpretation of the market offering during consumption and to emphasize the distinction between sensory processing and cognitive processing.

Both the elements in this research and the constructs in TEAV dovetail with the conceptual approach of Richardson (1984), who defines experience as "an event to be described in terms of a sensory, imaginal and affective complex" (p. 195). Interestingly, Richardson advocates incorporating the experiential dimension along with the oft-studied behavioral and physiological dimensions of psychology, just as some consumer researchers have begun to consider experiential consumption in addition to information processing and other cognitive oriented approaches to consumer behavior.

Distribution of Market Offerings

The market offerings are categorized in Table 1 according to whether they were perceived as instrumental (extrinsically valued) or hedonic (intrinsically valued) by the respondents. There was considerable agreement among respondents. Appliances, automobiles, and a variety of services (e.g., college, haircutting, travel agency) were viewed as instrumental market offerings and valued extrinsically. Music related products, live events, and movies and television programs were perceived as hedonic market offerings and valued intrinsically. However,--some of the market offerings (e.g., clothing) were seen as instrumental by some respondents but as hedonic by others, indicating that at least some market offerings may be valued both extrinsically and intrinsically.

Distribution of Protocol Responses

The total number of responses for the 102 IC experiences was 506, each protocol averaging 5.0 responses. The total number of responses for the 102 SC-experiences was 521, or 5.1 responses per protocol. The range in the number of responses was two to thirteen for each type of consumption experience.

The percentages of responses falling into the elements by consumption type are reported in Table 2. The results of the difference between proportions significance tests indicate significant differences in the relative salience of elements in IC and HC. Thought is clearly the most salient element for both IC and HC: it accounts for over three-fifths of IC responses, but less than one-half of HC responses. However, significant differences exist only for the Benefits category and its Functional and Psychosocial subcategories: Benefits represent over one-third of IC responses, but less than one-sixth of HC responses. Sensation also accounts for a significantly larger percentage of IC responses than HC responses.

The percentages corresponding to Feeling, Activity, and Evaluation are greater for HC than IC. Although Feeling encompasses a larger percentage of HC responses than IC responses, a significant difference exists only for Emotion/Mood. The percentage of responses falling into Setting are not significantly different for IC and HC.




The results of this study suggest that instrumental consumption is grounded in the consumer's immediate experiential world, particularly the consumer's narrow relationship with the market offering. Relative to hedonic consumption, the consumer is more likely to link the market offering with both functional and psychosocial needs, perhaps through structured thought and logical reasoning. Hedonic consumption involves experiences which seem to diffuse through the consumer's extended experiential world. Relative to instrumental consumption, the consumer is more likely to experience emotional reactions and to be actively involved in the experience. The differences between hedonic and instrumental consumption appear to relate to the type of market offering (Table 1), suggesting the possibility of placing market offerings on an instrumental/hedonic scale.

These empirical findings support a broadened definition of thought in experiential consumption (Hirschman 1985a). Further, the results and the implications derived from them support the conceptual importance which has been placed on emotion in hedonic consumption (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982; Holbrook 1986). Finally, the findings demonstrate the importance of studying instrumental consumption experiences in addition to continuing research to better understand hedonics (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982).


A weakness of this study relates to the limitations of consumer self-report. Although there is considerable controversy regarding the extent of self-report problems in consumer research, it is widely acknowledged that such problems exist to some degree (e.g., see Nisbett and Wilson 1977). The present study may suffer from inaccuracy as it relates to incompleteness of information (Rip 1980). As defined by Hirschman and Holbrook (1986, p. 219), the consumption experience is "an emergent property that results from a complex system of mutually overlapping interrelationships in constant reciprocal interaction with personal, environmental, and situational inputs." The many interactions inherent in the TEAV Model reflect the assumption that the whole of the experience is different than the mere sum of its constituent parts. Therefore, words can probably never adequately describe a consumption experience; in particular, having subjects provide a list of words, associations, and images is a fairly crude method of conveying the experience of consumption. Whereas complete descriptions of phenomenological consumption experiences undoubtedly would have provided richer qualitative data, the analysis of such gestalts would have required methods (e.g., see Geertz 1973) beyond the exploratory scope of this study.

A second problem relates to the fact that responses were summed across all respondents for each type of consumption experience, as opposed to treating each experience individually. Thus, the results of this study can not be applied to each and every case of experiential consumption. For example, it would be incorrect to posit that every experience of hedonic consumption involves relatively more feeling than every experience of instrumental consumption.

A third issue concerns the scope of this exploratory study, which is limited to examining various aspects of consumption within the context of the experience itself. Further research might contrast instrumental and hedonic consumption more systematically by controlling for type of market offering and personal and situational factors. The conceptual distinction suggests that, for instance, hedonically oriented eating experiences involve more emotion and less cognition than instrumentally oriented eating experiences.


The findings of this exploratory study indicate that researchers investigating experiential consumption need to be concerned with a number of factors, including the environmental context or situation (Setting), various factors relating to the consumer (Thought, Feeling, Activity, Evaluation), and the consumer's stimulation through sensory modalities (Sensation). Scholars should additionally be aware of possible variations in experiential consumption arising from differences in consumer orientation, specifically, extrinsic versus intrinsic value orientations. The study suggests that, in comparison with instrumental consumption, hedonic consumption involves relatively greater emotional processing and more activity and evaluation, but relatively less overall cognitive processing and sensory stimulation. Whereas instrumental consumption may be grounded in the consumer's immediate experiential world, hedonic consumption may diffuse through the consumer's extended experiential world.

Consumer researchers clearly need to continue striving for a broader and deeper understanding of the consumer-market offering dyad than can be understood in the limited context of behaviors such as information search and purchase. This will require "a full investigation of the relationship between people and objects" (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton 1981, p. 173), may involve the introduction of radically new concepts, and should -at the very least -- provide scholars with interesting perspectives on consumption.



This coding scheme represents the resultant framework of the iterative coding process. The inductively derived elements of consumption are indicated by capital letters, categories by numbers, and subcategories by small letters. Note that some elements are also coding categories, as indicated by a number next to the capital letter. For example, "Setting" is category "I" in addition to representing element "A".

Al. Setting (or experiential input) -- refers to objects and people in the immediate physical environment as well as atmospheric and other environmental intangibles which help describe the time and place of the experience. For example, "scissors," "beach," and "friends" are physical elements in experiential settings. "Spring," "dark theater," and "romantic dinner" are environmental intangibles.

B2. Sensation (or sensory stimulation) -- refers to the consumer's translation of the market offering through sensory processes/modalities. Hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching are various sensory modalities. "Minty" and "smells like papaya" are sensations or sensory imagery.

C. Thought -- refers to attributes, benefits, and associations in consumption.

3. Attributes -- relate to how various aspects of the market offering are perceived.

3a. Concrete Attributes -- refer to the physical elements and qualities or sensory descriptions associated with a specific market offering. "Tiny," "thick," and 114" are concrete attributes.

3b. Abstract Attributes -- refer to the nonphysical qualities associated with a specific market offering. "Good quality," " long- lasting," .. reliable," and "good service" are abstract attributes.

4. Benefits (or Disadvantages) -- relate to how the market offering may satisfy (or fail to satisfy) the consumer's personal needs and desires.

4a. Functional Benefits (or Disadvantages) -- refer to the instrumental or special purpose needs which may be satisfied (or fail to -be satisfied) through consumption of the particular market offering. Typically, these benefits relate to physiological or other life sustaining and maintenance needs. "Prevents wrinkles," "decreases use of hairspray," "gets telephone messages when not home," and 1. makes me thin" are functional benefits.

4b. Psychosocial. Benefits (or Disadvantages) -- refer to the psychological or social needs which may be satisfied (or fail to be satisfied) through consumption of the particular market offering. Typically, such benefits relate to self-esteem, status, or self- actualization. "Others notice it," ,. pleasing parents," and "broadening horizons" are psychosocial benefits.

5. Associations -- refer to thoughts linking the consumed market offering to other market offerings, objects, symbols, concepts, people, places, or events beyond the consumption experience itself. "Victoria Principal," "the characters are similar to people I know," and "thought of good old days of high school" are examples of associational imagery.

D. Feeling -- refers to affective responses in consumption, including diverse types of feelings that consumption may bring about in the consumer or that the consumer may bring to the consumption experience. 6. Emotion and Mood State -- refer to the relatively intense feelings the consumer experiences in consumption, or to the relatively diffuse, prolonged states of feeling which may accompany consumption. "Mad," "sad," "fear," "pride," and "envy" are emotions. "Curiosity," "mischievous," "devious," "passionate," and "adventuresome" are moods. 7. Physiological Feeling -- refers to organically derived or organically related feelings (bodily states) in consumption. "Hungry," "thirsty," "hot," "tired," and "nauseated" are organically derived feelings. "Makes me energetic," "stimulated," and "relaxed" are organically related feelings.

E8. Activity -- relates to behaviorally related events that occur during consumption. Mental activity refers to internal dialogue consisting of a running commentary or narrative as though the consumer is relating the event to another person. "Thinking about the other person I'm talking to" and "Choosing from the best available items" are mental activities. Motor activity refers to physical movement during consumption. "Swimming in the ocean," "getting dressed up," and "made believe I played guitar and sang to it" are motor activities.

F9. Evaluation (or experiential output) -- refers to an overall appraisal of a market offering in the context of the particular consumption experience. Evaluative responses may relate to market offering use, such as "satisfied," "pleased with results," or "happy with the purchase." Also, evaluative responses may relate to market offering appreciation, such as "fulfilling," "fun," "entertaining," or "incredible."

10. Miscellaneous -- responses which do not fit into the categories and subcategories defined above.


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