A New Perspective on Hedonic Consumption

ABSTRACT - Holbrook and Hirschman proposed hedonic consumption perspective (HCP). Their HCP is opposite of information processing perspective (IPP), because their HCP focuses on consumer pleasure experience, especially enjoyment of arts or games, while IPP focuses on consumer problem solving. However, the pleasure concept remains vague in their HCP. By examining the pleasure concept in philosophy, this paper defines it as Aexperience of subjectively desirable emotion.@ APleasure,@ defined as such, includes desirable emotions attributed to problem solving, in addition to enjoyment of arts or games. This paper proposes a new HCP that is not opposite of IPP, but includes IPP.



Citation:

Keiko Horiuchi (2003) ,"A New Perspective on Hedonic Consumption", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Darach Turley and Stephen Brown, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 265-269.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Pages 265-269

A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON HEDONIC CONSUMPTION

Keiko Horiuchi, Seijo University, Japan

[This paper is an advanced study based on my doctoral dissertation thesis submitted to Kyoto University, Japan, entitled "In Pursuit of >Hedonic Consumption= (A>Kairakushohi= no Tsuikyu" in Japanese)." It was published by Hakuto Shobo, In., Tokyo, Japan. The author greatly acknowledges the valuable comments of Professor Emeritus Fumio Kondo, Professor Masao Tao, and Professor Yasunaga Wakabayashi at Kyoto University, Japan. The author also greatly acknowledges the valuable comments of the two reviewers of the present paper.]

ABSTRACT -

Holbrook and Hirschman proposed hedonic consumption perspective (HCP). Their HCP is opposite of information processing perspective (IPP), because their HCP focuses on consumer pleasure experience, especially enjoyment of arts or games, while IPP focuses on consumer problem solving. However, the pleasure concept remains vague in their HCP. By examining the pleasure concept in philosophy, this paper defines it as "experience of subjectively desirable emotion." "Pleasure," defined as such, includes desirable emotions attributed to problem solving, in addition to enjoyment of arts or games. This paper proposes a new HCP that is not opposite of IPP, but includes IPP.

INTRODUCTION

The idea of hedonic consumption was born in the early 1980s. In 1982, Holbrook and Hirschman (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982) proposed hedonic consumption perspective (HCP) as n opposite perspective of information processing perspective (IPP), which has been the dominant perspective in the consumer research field since the late 1970s.

IPP views a consumer behavior as a series of cognitive activities for problem solving. It assumes that a consumer processes the product information in order to solve product-related problems, that is, to make the rational purchase decision.

Holbrook and Hirschman pointed out that from IPP, we cannot explain the consumer behavior such as enjoyment of arts or games. [Although we can consider the human behavior such as appreciation of arts or watching sports games as consumer behavior, IPP rarely paid attention to this kind of behavior.] According to Holbrook and Hirschman, IPP focuses mainly on the functional utility of the product, and rarely considers pleasure experiences through appreciation of arts or watching sports games. HCP was proposed to stimulate the investigation of consumer’s pleasure experiences.

However, Holbrook and Hirschman’s HCP seems to lack a clear definition of the key concept, "pleasure." Is it reasonable to regard HCP as the opposite perspective of IPP? We cannot answer this question without clarifying the pleasure concept.

This paper first examines the previous discussion on HCP and points out a problem of the pleasure concept. Second, this paper examines and defines the pleasure concept by referring to the arguments in philosophy. Third, this paper proposes a new HCP based on the proposed definition of "pleasure," and discusses the coverage of new HCP in explaining consumer behaviors.

THE REASON WHY THIS PAPER IS BASED ON PHILOSOPHY

Before this paper begins its examination according to the above mentioned line, it is needed to explain why this paper focuses on the arguments in philosophy.

Many consumer researchers seem to consider that the scientific study needs the empirical data. We can admit that many consumer behavior studies are empirical ones, that is, including data collection, whether the data are qualitative or quantitative. However, data collection is not the only requirement for the scientific study. As Stegmuller (1969) argues, "the clarification of concepts is a prerequisite to any serious scientific endeavor (p. 273)." Stegmuller points out as follows:

One of the most important ways of introducing concepts in a scientific system is through the medium of so-called definitions. According to traditional logic, we must distinguish between nominal definitions and real definitions. The former are simply a matter of linguistic stipulation; the latter involves statements concerning the essence of objects. (Stegmuller, Main Currents in Contemporary German, British, and American Philosophy, 1969, p. 273)

This paper will deal with Stegmuller’s "real definitions" rather than "nominal definitions." Then, what kind of method can we adopt for clarifying the "real definitions"? Stegmuller, by introducing Carl Hempel’s classification, shows three methods for clarifying "real definitions." They are: 1) analysis of meaning (breaking down the concepts into their components), 2) empirical analysis (giving the necessary and sufficient conditions for application of the concept through empirical tests), and 3) explication of concepts (citing certain examples that contain the meaning to be explicated, as well as further examples, deviating from these, in which other meaning of the expression are given) (Stegmuller, 1969, p. 277-8). "Examples" mentioned in the third method is not the actual human behaviors described by the concept, but the written phrases which include the concept.

Among the above three, this paper will adopt the third method. That is, this paper will cite certain arguments in the philosophy field for clarifying the concept of pleasure, because, in the philosophy field, arguments on "pleasure" have been one of the most important themes since the ancient Greece era. Philosophers and thinkers on hedonism have considered "pleasure" as the essential element of the good human lives. Thus, we can consider that the philosophical arguments offer insightful examples for the fundamental understanding of the pleasure concept.

In addition, it needs to be noted that the word "philosophy" in this paper dose not designate "methodology." In the consumer research field, the theme of methodology is often discussed referring to philosophy. For example, Hudson and Murray (1986) argue about the method of hedonic consumption study referring to philosophy.

In the consumer research field, themes other than methodology have rarely examined in relation to philosophy. However, the research themes that relate to philosophy are not necessarily limited to methodology. Studies on the fundamental meaning of concepts for explaining consumer behaviors also seem to have relationship with philosophy.

PREVIOUS HCP

As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, since the late 1970s, the major perspective for explaining consumer behaviors has been IPP. In the consumer research field, it has been widely accepted that IPP is appropriate to explain consumer’s purchase decision making.

However, Holbrook and Hirschman pointed out that IPP is not sufficient for explaining consumer behaviors. They paid attention to consumer behaviors such as appreciation of arts or watching sports games, and argued that from IPP, we cannot fully explain these consumer behaviors. They cautioned against the over-emphasis on the purchase decision making in the consumer research field in those days. As mentioned before, in 1982, Holbrook and Hirschman proposed a new perspective for explaining consumer behaviors, in their two papers (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982). [Although the related arguments have been published before 1982, we can consider that the papers in which they proposed a new perspective are these two (Horiuch, 2001).]

They held that the experiential aspects are worth considering for explaining consumer behaviors such as appreciation of arts. When we focus on the experiential aspects of consumer behaviors, pleasure experiences emerge as important research themes. [As Horiuchi (2001) points out, meanings of consumer behaviors also emerged as important research themes, based on Holbrook and Hirschman=s HCP. However, as the theme of meaning goes beyond the theme of the present study, it is not mentioned here.] Consumer’s pleasure experiences that Holbrook and Hirschman regarded as representative are summarized as the three "F" s: Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun.

Holbrook and Hirschman contrasted their HCP with IPP in various aspects of consumer behaviors. For example, they contrasted the product features within their HCP framework against those within IPP framework, and indicated the former as subjective and the latter as objective. In consumer resources, Holbrook and Hirschman indicated that the former is time, while the latter is money. In the output of consumer behavior, Holbrook and Hirschman indicated that the former is fun, enjoyment, and pleasure, while the latter is useful function. [Actually, the author thinks Holbrook and Hirschman=s scheme of contrasting HCP with IPP is not reasonable, as the author has pointed out elsewhere. According to their scheme, HCP is located on the opposite end of IPP on the same dimension. Thus, if their scheme is reasonable, HCP would be explained within IPP framework. Within their scheme, we can consider that HCP is not a different perspective from IPP, but the extended perspective of IPP. HCP can be a different perspective from IPP only when we can detect consumer behaviors that can be explained within HCP framework, but never can be explained within IPP framework.]

Holbrook and Hirschman’s arguments provoked a new movement in the consumer research field, although their perspective did not seem to be supported by the most researchers in this field. Several consumer researchers who have doubts about "computer metaphor" or "rational economic man hypothesis" appeared to have supported their perspective.

AN UNRESOLVED ISSUE

The idea of HCP proposed by Holbrook and Hirschman was epoch-making at least for the researchers not subscribing to IPP, and many empirical studies have been carried out based on Holbrook and Hirshcman’s HCP. For example, demographic surveys of the art market, studies on the determinant factors (predictors) of the enjoyment of arts r games, studies on the development of scales for measuring hedonic aspects of products, and studies on consumer emotions including pleasurable ones, have been carried out (Horiuchi, 2001). However, the knowledge obtained from such empirical studies seemed to be specific to the kind of games or arts, and to construct the general principles or theories of HCP seemed to be difficult (Horiuchi, 2001). This is a serious problem for the advance in hedonic consumption study as a social science discipline.

An important reason for this problem is the vagueness of the key concept of pleasure (Horiuchi, 2001). As early as 1985, Ahtola pointed out a similar problem to this and argues that overall picture of the HCP remains fuzzy. Hudson and Murray (1986) also pointed out that the previous hedonic consumption studies "miss the rich foundation of the conceptualization" (p. 346). [Hudson and Murray (1986) attribute the cause of this problem to using inappropriate method of hedonic consumption studies. Thus, their argument develops focusing on the examination of the methodology rather than that of the concept itself, as this paper attempts.]

Previous hedonic consumption studies have often used the concept of pleasure according to the everyday ordinary usage without strictly defining it. "Enjoyment" has often been regarded as the typical pleasure. Previous hedonic consumption studies have often dealt with the consumer’s enjoyment of arts or games as the typical theme.

Certainly, we can admit that "enjoyment" is a pleasure. However, to show the typical examples such as "enjoyment" is not sufficient to define "pleasure." Is "enjoyment" the only theme that hedonic consumption studies should deal with? How about a sense of relief or that of mental healing? How about a sense of achievement or that of fulfillment? Could we not consider these experiences as "pleasure"? But the previous hedonic consumption studies did not consider these experiences.

The above questions can be summarized in the following simple question: What is pleasure? This question, which is the logical starting point of hedonic consumption studies, needs to be considered (Horiuchi, 2001).

EXPLORING THE CONCEPT OF PLEASURE

In order to clarify the essentials of the concept of pleasure, this paper examines the concept by referring to arguments on "pleasure" in the philosophy field, based on Horiuchi’s arguments (2001). Arguments from the ancient Greek hedonism philosophy to the utilitarian socio-economic thought, to the modern utilitarian philosophy, are considered.

"Pleasure" in the Ancient Greek Hedonism Philosophy

How is the concept of pleasure explained in the ancient Greek hedonism philosophy? Epicurus is a Greek philosopher who argued about this concept as follows: [Epicurus is not the only Greek philosopher who though about "pleasure." But his thought seems to be especially insightful for exploring its fundamental meaning.]

When, therefore, we maintain that pleasure is the end, we do not mean the pleasures of profligates and those that consist in sensuality, as is supposed by some who are either ignorant or disagree with us or do not understand, but freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind. For it is not continuous drinkings and revellings, nor the satisfaction of lusts, nor the enjoyment of fish and other luxuries of the wealthy table, which produce a pleasant life, but sober reasoning, searching out the motives for all choice and avoidance, and banishing mere options, to which are due the greatest disturbance of the spirit. (Bailey, 1970, Epicurus -The Extant Remarks-, p. 89, p. 91)

From the discussion cited here, we can understand that when Epicurus uses the word "pleasure" as the goal of human activities, he does not mean sensory or sensual enjoyment, but prudence that is free from pain.

"Pleasure" in the Utilitarian Socio-economic Thought

Bentham and J. S. Mill are representative thinkers of "pleasure" in the utilitarian socio-economic thought through the 18-19th centuries. Although Bentham’s and Mill’s utilitarian arguments differ from each other in many points, their essential understandings of the pleasure concept are similar.

As shown in the following argument, Bentham described the concept of pleasure in reference to the concept of utility.

By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered . . . . (Bentham, 1970, First published in 1789, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, p. 12)

Mill’s position below was similar to Bentham’s in the description of "pleasure" and "utility."

Those who know anything about the matter (i. e., utility) are aware that every writer, from Epicurus to Bentham, who maintained the theory of utility, meant by it, not something to be contradistinguished from pleasure, but pleasure itself, together with exemption from pain; and instead of opposing the useful to the agreeable or the ornamental, have always declared that the useful means these, among other things. (Mill, Utilitarianism, 1998, First published in 1861, p. 54, parenthesis added by Horiuchi)

A review of Bentham’s and Mill’s utilitarian thought brings one to understand that they did not consider both "pleasure" and "utility" as opposing to each other. Rather, Bentham and Mill used both concepts for almost the same meaning. The pleasure concept in Bentham’s and Mill’s arguments is much broader than the concept in our everyday usage. They used the pleasure concept for not only enjoyment of games or arts, but also satisfaction with functionality or usefulness.

"Pleasure" in Modern Utilitarian Philosophy

Sidgwick’s famous work, "The Methods of Ethics" (1907) is worth citing here. As a utilitarian philosopher in the modern times, he examined the concept of pleasure by referring to the utilitarian socio-economic thought such as Mill’s.

As shown in the following citation, Sidgwick defined "pleasure" as the desirable feeling. We can recognize that Sidgwick’s "pleasure" means not only the enjoyable feeling, but also a variety of positive feelings for individuals.

Let, then, pleasure be defined as feeling which the sentient individual at the time of feeling it implicitly or explicitly apprehends to be desirable; desirable, that is, when considered merely as feeling, and not in respect of its objective conditions or consequences, or of any facts that come directly within the cognisance and judgment of others besides the sentient individual. (Sidgwick, 1907, The Methods of Ethics, Seventh Edition, p. 131)

What Is the Essential Meaning of "Pleasure?"

The above review of the philosophical arguments leads to a conclusion that we can define the pleasure concept as "experience of subjectively desirable emotion." This definition is mainly based on Sidgwick’s thought. [This definition is also consistent with Hudson and Murray=s argument (1986) on the method of hedonic consumption study. In that argument, they maintain that hedonic consumption study needs the subjectivist approach rather than the objectivist approach. Their argument is in line with the present paper=s definition of "pleasure," because the present paper regard "pleasure" as the subjective experience. However, Hudson and Murray=s usage of "hedonic consumption" seems to be limited to enjoyment of arts or games. Thus, it appears that their "hedonic consumption" covers a smaller area in consumer behaviors than that in the present study.] It is a little modified definition of Horiuchi (2001)’s. [In Horiuchi (2001), the pleasure concept is defined as "subjective desireability," according to Sidgwick (1907).] Although "pleasure" defined this way includes "enjoyment," as indicated in previous HCP, it also includes many other experiences of positive emotions.

"Pleasure" defined as "experience of subjectively desirable emotion" is not the opposite concept of "utility." There exists pleasure such as satisfaction with functional utility. This kind of pleasure was not considered within previous HCP.

Thus, we can state that the usage of "pleasure" in previous HCP covers only a small part of the original usage of it. The present study proposes applying the philosophical broad usage of "pleasure" to study hedonic consumption, because, using this broad definition, we can understand the concept of pleasure at its fundamental level.

PROPOSING A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON HEDONIC CONSUMPTION

In this section, this paper proposes a new definition of "hedonic consumption," based on the examination of the pleasure concept in philosophy. Then this section examines the coverage of new HCP in explaining consumer behaviors, and discusses the relationship among IPP, previous HCP, and new HCP.

A New Definition of Hedonic Consumption

In the previous section, this paper proposes a definition of pleasure as "experience of subjectively desirable emotion." Based on this pleasure definition, this paper proposes a new definition of "hedonic consumption": Hedonic consumption is the experience of subjectively desirable emotion, obtained from consumer behaviors. The newly proposed hedonic consumption includes not only enjoyment of the arts or games, but also various experiences of positive emotion through consumer behaviors, such as being relieved by the ingredient information of seemingly harmful food products, joy caused by obtaining a hard-to-obtain product, being cheered up by attending a pop music concert, etc.

Coverage of New HCP in Explaining Consumer Behaviors

Based on the present argument, IPP, previous HCP, and new HCP are summarized as shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1

SUMMARY OF THE THREE PERSPECTIVES

FIGURE 1

THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG THE THREE PERSPECTIVES

Based on the summary (Table 1), this paper examines the coverage of new HCP in explaining consumer behavior, in relation to that of IPP and previous HCP.

Figure 1 shows the relationship among the three perspectives.

The darkened circle (A) in Figure 1 indicates the consumer behavior covered by IPP. This perspective focuses on problem solving, where the problem mainly concerns functional utility.

The shaded area (B) in Figure 1 indicates the consumer behavior covered by previous HCP. This perspective mainly focuses on consumer’s enjoyment of arts or games.

IPP (A) and Previous HCP (B) are mutually exclusive. Previous HCP (B) does not explain consumer’s satisfaction with the functional problem solving.

The outer circle (C) in Figure 1 indicates the consumer behavior covered by new HCP. This perspective deals with not only the consumer’s enjoyment of arts or games (shown as (B) in Figure 1), but also a variety of consumer experiences of subjectively desirable emotions.

IPP (A), based on the assumption of problem solving, is subsumed in new HCP (C), when a consumer desires a problem solving. [This idea was inspired by Yasunaga Wakabayashi, mentioned in the first footnote.] A consumer may experience a kind of pleasure through buying or using a product that can solve the problem, or through disposing a product that causes the problem.

Let us consider a typical IPP explanation of consumer behavior: when a consumer have a serious trouble with the personal computer and buy a new one, then the consumer may solve the problem. But at the same time, the consumer may experience pleasure such as satisfaction or relief, because the problem is solved.

In this example, we can explain the consumer behavior not only from IPP (A), but also from new HCP (C). In this case, we can even use a word such as "rational pleasure" within new HCP framework, because the consumer experiences pleasure attributed to the product’s usefulness.

In Figure 1, we can find that there exist the subjective desirable consumer behaviors that cannot be covered by either IPP (A) or previous HCP (B). Subjectively desirable consumer behaviors without either any problem recognition or any experience of enjoyment belong to this area. Such consumer behaviors are indicated as (c)B{(A) + (B)} in Figure 1.

For example, we cannot explain the consumer behavior such as buying a seemingly useless toy like a tiny doll of a cartoon from either IPP or previous HCP, because we cannot find either any problem recognition or any experience of enjoyment. However, through this consumer behavior, the consumer may experience mild amusement, which is included in the present expanded concept of pleasure. We can explain this type of consumer behavior from new HCP (C).

Thus, new HCP (C) covers a wide variety of consumer behaviors that are not limited to appreciation of arts or watching sports games, as in previous HCP (B). [The present argument does not mean that new HCP can cover all consumer behaviors. From new HCP, we cannot explain consumer behaviors without any desirable emotion such as compulsory purchases.]

CONCLUSION

This paper has proposed a new HCP based on Horiuchi’s argument (2001), and it has discussed the relationship of new HCP with IPP and previous HCP. This paper has asserted that new HCP is not opposed to IPP. Rather, the former includes the latter.

The possible contribution of the present argument to the empirical hedonic consumption studies is that it can expand the possibility of explanation of consumer behaviors from the point of pleasure. Explanation of a wide variety of consumer behaviors that could not be explained within previous HCP becomes possible within new HCP.

Comparing the explanation of the consumer’s problem solving within IPP and the explanation of it from the point of pleasure experience also becomes possible when we adopt new HCP. This comparison becomes possible, because IPP and new HCP are not mutually exclusive, but share the certain area in explaining consumer behaviors (Figure 1).

Furthermore, the present argument may serve to raise meaningful empirical research questions on hedonic consumption. For example, exploring the reason why we sometimes experience "rational pleasure," such as joy experienced through buying a good-value-for-money product, is a possible research question based on the present argument. [This question is based on a question the author received at a past conference on social psychology, held in Japan, which is mentioned in Horiuchi (2001).]

However, the present paper does not examine the problems brought by introducing new HCP into the explanation of consumer behaviors. For example, the present paper does not examine whether new HCP can encompass all IPP, as shown in Figure 1, or not. For example, a consumer who does not experience any kind of pleasure when the problem is solved might exist. In such a case, we would explain the consumer behavior from IPP, but we would not explain it from new HCP.

We can point out another example of the unresolved problem in this paper. This paper does not fully examine the relationship between the newly expanded concept of pleasure and the related concept of utility. The concept of utility is not the concept specific to IPP, when we adopt new HCP. Further efforts for clarifying "pleasure" and the related concepts such as "utility" seem to be important not only for hedonic consumption studies, but also consumer research in general.

REFERENCES

Ahtola, O. T. (1985), "Hedonic and Utilitarian Aspects of Consumer Behavior: An Attitudinal Perspective," Advances in Consumer Research, 12, 7-10.

Bailey, C. (1970), Epicurus: The Extant Remains. Hildesheim: George Olms Verlag.

Bentham, J., Edited by Burns, J. H. and Hart, H. L. A. (1970), An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, with a New Introduction by Rosen, F. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hirschman, E. C. and Holbrook, M. B. (1982), "Hedonic Consumption: Emerging Concepts, Methods, and Propositions," Journal of Marketing, 46 (Summer), 92-101.

Holbrook, M. B. and Hirschman, E. C. (1982), "The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 132-140.

Horiuchi, K. (2001), In Pursuit of "Hedonic Consumption, ("'Kairakushohi’ no Tsuikyu" in Japanese) Tokyo: Hakuto-Shobo Publishing Company.

Hudson, L. A. and Murray, J. B. (1986), "Methodological Limitations of the Hedonic Consumption Paradigm and A Possible Alternative: A Subjectivist Approach," Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 13, 343-348.

Mill, J. S., Edited by Crisp, R. (1998), Utilitarianism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sharples, R. W. (1996), Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics. London: Routledge.

Sidgwick, H. (1907), The Methods of Ethics (Seventh Ed.). London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd.

Stegmuller, W. (1969), Main Currents in Contemporary German, British, and American Philosophy (Fourth Edition). Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

----------------------------------------

Authors

Keiko Horiuchi, Seijo University, Japan



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2003



Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More

Featured

To Apologize, or Not to Apologize? That is A Question - How Should an Organization Respond to Executive Employees’ Private Life Misconduct?

Zayed Bin Islam, University of Guelph, Canada
Juan Wang, University of Guelph, Canada
Towhidul Islam, University of Guelph, Canada

Read More

Featured

Cheating Your Self: Diagnostic Self-Deceptive Cheating for Intrinsic Rewards

Sara Loughran Dommer, Georgia Tech, USA
Nicole Marie Coleman, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Read More

Featured

Deny the Voice Inside: Are Accessible Attitudes Always Beneficial?

Aaron Jeffrey Barnes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Sharon Shavitt, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.