# Journal of Consumer Research

### Editors

Darren Dahl (Editor in Chief)Eileen FischerGita JoharVicki Morwitz

2.783

## Variety Amnesia: Recalling Past Variety Can Accelerate Recovery from Satiation

Jeff Galak , Joseph P. Redden , Justin Kruger
575-584 First published online: 1 December 2009

## Abstract

Consumers frequently consume items to the point where they no longer enjoy them. In a pilot study and two experiments spanning three distinct classes of stimuli, we find that people can recover from this satiation by simply recalling the variety of alternative items they have consumed in the past. And yet, people seem to exhibit “variety amnesia” in that they do not spontaneously recall this past variety despite the fact that it would result in a desirable decrease in satiation. Thus, rather than satiation being a fixed physiological process, it appears that it is at least partially constructed in the moment. We discuss some of the theoretical implications of these findings and provide some prescriptive measures for both marketers and consumers.

• Aesthetic/Hedonic Consumption
• Affect/Emotions/Mood
• Experiential Consumption
• Memory
• Preferences

Consumers frequently consume products and experiences to the point where they no longer enjoy them, a process commonly referred to as “satiation” (Coombs and Avrunin 1977). This happens for a variety of stimuli ranging from the primarily physiological, such as food (Rolls, van Duijvenvoorde, and Rolls 1984) and sex (O’Donohue and Geer 1985), to the primarily nonphysiological, such as music (Ratner, Kahn, and Kahneman 1999), television programs (Nelson, Meyvis, and Galak 2009), art (Berlyne 1971), homes (Hsee et al., forthcoming), and cars (Frank 1999). In fact, satiation is often cited as a primary barrier to enduring happiness since, regardless of how satisfying a stimulus might be initially, that satisfaction tends to fade with repetition (Brickman and Campbell 1971).

One way to reduce unwanted satiation is to change the consumption experience. Prior work has shown that people satiate less when they consume more slowly (Galak, Kruger, and Loewenstein 2009), can more easily perceive the variety of an assortment being consumed (Kahn and Wansink 2004), or can subcategorize the consumption episodes (Raghunathan and Irwin 2001; Redden 2008). These approaches all act as preventive measures that slow satiation. In the present work, we instead explore remedies that can be used after satiation has occurred. If people can recover quickly and easily from a satiated state, then satiation poses a smaller problem for consumer enjoyment and happiness. In other words, people can fight satiation by either limiting it in the first place or reversing it after the fact. We focus on the latter.

Prior work has identified some antecedents of recovery from satiation, including the passage of time (Galak et al. 2009; Nelson and Meyvis 2008), and temporary exposure to a novel stimulus (Epstein et al. 1993; Hetherington et al. 2006). We build on this work by demonstrating that merely recalling the consumption of a variety of stimuli can have the same effect. Thus, we demonstrate how consumers can reduce their satiation using a simple and low-effort technique.

There has been little research to date on the extent to which people spontaneously recover from satiation. Generally speaking, the literature on satiation says very little about what drives recovery or to what extent it happens spontaneously. The present work provides a start by showing that considering the variety of other related stimuli to which one has been exposed since prior exposure to the satiated stimuli appears to considerably decrease satiation. Unfortunately, people do not seem to do so on their own, resulting in what we term “variety amnesia.”

## Theoretical Background

### Repeated Consumption and Enjoyment

Although people often equate satiation with reaching a physiological limit (e.g., feeling full), ample evidence suggests that satiation also results from more psychological processes such as habituation or adaptation (e.g., see McSweeney and Swindell [1999] for a review). Such a general process can help account for why people seem to satiate on nearly everything, whether it be more physiological, like eating food, or less physiological, like watching TV. For example, satiation has been found in a wide range of experiences, such as massages (Nelson and Meyvis 2008), nature and animal photographs (Redden 2008), and sexually arousing stimuli (O’Donohue and Geer 1985). As a general rule, people enjoy stimuli less as they are repeatedly exposed to them (though see Zajonc [1968] for an exception).

Although satiation is typically inevitable with enough consumption, it does not last forever. For example, listening to a song several times in a row will become tedious but presumably will not affect how much one enjoys hearing that song a year from now. People seem to recover and once again enjoy their favorites with the passage of time through a process termed “spontaneous recovery” (McSweeney and Swindell 1999; Thompson and Spencer 1966). In addition to time, satiation also seems to dissipate when people consume other items (commonly called dishabituators). For example, people salivate less from a taste of lemon after 10 trials, but a novel taste (such as chocolate) can immediately restore their salivation in subsequent lemon tastes (Epstein et al. 1993). It seems that the consumption of variety helps people recover from satiation. In this article, we focus on how the salience of that variety can also affect satiation.

### Construction of Satiation

There is little doubt that contextual cues affect liking (e.g., see Lichtenstein and Slovic [2006] for a review). Preferences seem to be more than just a function of past experiences; rather, they are at least partially constructed in the moment to reflect what is salient in the current context (Payne, Bettman, and Johnson 1993). If this is the case, then might it also be true that contextual cues affect how much past consumption influences current liking (i.e., satiation)? In other words, is satiation determined by some internal meter that keeps an ongoing balance of total consumption of a given stimulus (Cabanac 1971; McAlister 1982), or is satiation constructed based on the past consumption that readily comes to mind?

Recent evidence suggests that satiation may be, at least in part, constructed in the moment. In particular, recall of past consumption seems to play an important role in determining satiation. For example, in a now classic experiment, diners ate soup from bowls that were surreptitiously refilled while they were eating. Those who ate from these “bottomless” bowls ate approximately 76% more than participants in a control group who simply had a single-bowl serving (Wansink, Painter, and North 2005). Additionally, amnesiacs have been found to eat multiple lunches if not reminded of their previous meal despite—somewhat remarkably—presumably feeling full each time (Rozin et al. 1998). It appears that noticing and remembering consumption are vital for satiation, presumably because satiation is a function of how much such past consumption people recall. However, whereas this prior work focuses on recalling consumption for just the satiated item, the present article focuses on recalling consumption for the variety of other items one may have also consumed.

### Variety Amnesia

If satiation depends on recalling past consumption, then it is appropriate to ask what consumers will spontaneously recall. Consumers are unlikely to recall every item they have ever consumed and are instead likely to focus on a particular option (Klayman and Ha 1987) or a salient shared characteristic (Kahneman and Miller 1986). This focalism suggests that when consuming an item, consumers will focus on and primarily recall the instances when they had the same item and ignore the variety of other items in the same category that they also consumed. Such memory-related myopia we call variety amnesia.

For example, when thinking about a particular song, one is more likely to think about previous exposures to that song as well as that artist (as it is focal) than exposure to other songs by other artists (as they are nonfocal). This focalism may leave the consumer feeling like he or she has been listening to the same song repeatedly, which could then lead to a heightened sense of satiation. If so, reminding people of the variety of other items they have had should accelerate recovery from satiation. In other words, merely recalling variety from the past may have a similar effect to actually consuming the variety, by acting as a “virtual” dishabituator.

It is, however, unlikely that focusing on any consumption experience from the past will accelerate recovery. Specifically, in the context of satiation, we predict that thoughts of unrelated experiences should have little impact on recovery. For example, thinking about music likely will not make one feel less satiated with, say, a favorite jelly bean, as music has little to do with food. In contrast, thinking about consumption experiences related to jelly beans, such as other flavors of jelly beans or other types of candies, should help the recovery process. More generally, we expect that recalling the variety of items one has had in the past will accelerate recovery primarily when these items belong to the same category or consumption context as the satiated item.

The remainder of this article focuses on testing these predictions in a series of empirical studies. We find that recalling the variety of alternative experiences one has had accelerates recovery from satiation. A pilot study demonstrates the proposed effect for recalling past social interactions and provides initial evidence for our predictions. The next study replicates this effect in a controlled 3-week longitudinal study related to music consumption. The final study rules out several alternative explanations and extends the effect to the more physiological setting of food consumption. Overall, we find our effects to be quite robust across a wide range of stimuli and time periods, yet also quite specific to recalling episodes since last consuming the satiated item and from the same general class as the satiated item. We conclude with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

## Pilot Study

This pilot study was designed as an initial test of our predictions in an ecologically valid manner. We allowed participants to self-report a satiating experience in the domain of social interactions and measured recovery by eliciting the expected time to the next interaction. We predict that highlighting social interactions with other people from the past will accelerate the recovery from satiation on a target person. Consequently, this should make participants want to spend time again with that person sooner than when they are not asked to recall past interactions with others.

We tested this prediction using two different control groups. First, we included a control condition where participants recalled celebrities they had heard something about in the past 2 weeks. If recalling these events that involve no social interaction does not accelerate recovery, then it suggests that recalling only related items from the past helps recovery from satiation. Second, we also included a control condition where participants thought of future interactions that they expected to have. This encouraged participants to think of other friends but not in the context of past interactions that could break up the repetition. As such, we do not expect any reduction in satiation. Said otherwise, we predict that much like actual dishabituators (McSweeney and Swindell 1999) that necessarily occur since the last time an item was consumed, mere thoughts of intervening interactions will also accelerate recovery beyond what naturally occurs because they break up what otherwise would be repetitive.

### Method

#### Procedure

Upon arriving at the lab, participants were told that they would be participating in a jelly bean taste test. They then rank ordered their liking for six different flavors of jelly beans (green apple, orange juice, tangerine, licorice, watermelon, and raspberry). These rankings were used to create two sets of 12 jelly beans each for participants to consume. For participants in the favorite condition, the first set (or “initial set”) contained only their top-ranked jelly beans. Participants in the nonfavorite condition received only their fifth-ranked jelly beans. The least preferred flavor was not used to reduce the chance that someone received a jelly bean they would be unable (or unwilling) to consume. For all participants, the second (or “intervening set”) consisted of a random combination of four jelly beans from each of their second-, third-, and fourth-ranked flavors. In this way, for some participants (those in the favorite condition) the intervening set of jelly beans was necessarily inferior than the initial set, while for other participants (those in the nonfavorite condition) the intervening set was necessarily superior to the initial set. If having people recall eating the intervening set reduces satiation for the flavor eaten in the initial set, regardless of whether it is a more preferred or less preferred flavor, then evaluative contrast will be ruled out as an explanation for our effect.

To induce satiation, participants started by eating the initial set of jelly beans one at a time indicating their enjoyment of each on a 101-point unmarked slider scale anchored with “hated it” and “loved it.” Participants were next given a cup of 12 jelly beans (the intervening set) and told to eat them at their own pace while watching three short animated videos (“Mike’s New Car,” “Lifted,” and “For the Birds”; all by Pixar Animation Studies and lasting approximately 12 minutes in total). The videos were included to give participants time to consume the intervening set of jelly beans. After watching all of the videos, participants completed an unrelated filler task for approximately 20 minutes. The filler task was an unrelated experiment that focused on competition between firms and had nothing to do with food consumption or satiation.

After completing the filler task, participants were randomly assigned to one of the three recall conditions. Participants assigned to the intervening set condition saw a screen on the computer with 12 pictures of the variety of jelly beans that they consumed while watching the videos. They then wrote a few sentences about how this set of jelly beans tasted. Participants in the initial set condition performed the same task but saw pictures of and described the initial set of jelly beans that they consumed. Participants in the control condition saw no pictures and wrote instead about the unrelated filler task that they had just completed. Thus, regardless of the condition, everyone had to write a few sentences about a previous task. The manipulation was designed to make participants focus on either the intervening set of jelly beans, the initial set of jelly beans, or no jelly beans at all.

Following the manipulation, participants consumed two more jelly beans depending on the preference condition that they were in. Participants in the favorite (nonfavorite) condition ate two more of their top- (fifth-) ranked jelly beans and then, as a primary measure of recovery, indicated their enjoyment of each on the same scale used in the initial part of the experiment. Next, as a secondary measure of recovery, participants made a hypothetical choice of jelly beans to take home. They were told to pick exactly 10 jelly beans from the set of six that they had ranked at the start of the experiment. Finally, participants were debriefed and thanked.

### Results and Discussion

As with the previous experiment, we first examined whether we successfully induced satiation. We measured satiation for each individual as their enjoyment rating for their first jelly bean minus that for their twelfth jelly bean. Participants clearly satiated whether they consumed their favorite ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ; one-sample $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ) or nonfavorite jelly bean ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ; one-sample $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ). The extent of satiation did not differ between these two groups ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ).

Next, we turned to the enjoyment ratings of the final two jelly beans consumed, which were the same flavor as those in the initial set. The enjoyment ratings for these two jelly beans were highly correlated ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ), so we averaged them into a single index of enjoyment. We predict that recalling the intervening set of jelly beans would lead to greater recovery from satiation on the initial flavor eaten, regardless of whether the intervening set consists of more preferred or less preferred jelly beans. As such, the final enjoyment index was submitted to a 3 (recall: intervening set, initial set, or control task) × 2 (preference: favorite or nonfavorite) ANCOVA that (as in study 1) included the enjoyment ratings of the first stimulus consumed as a covariate (all reported means are unadjusted). The analysis resulted in only the predicted main effect of recall ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ). As figure 3 shows, regardless of whether participants consumed their favorite or nonfavorite jelly bean, reminding them of the intervening set of jelly beans resulted in greater enjoyment of the subsequently consumed jelly beans ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ) than reminding them of the initial set of jelly beans or the filler task (pooled $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ; $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ).

Figure 3

Study 2: Immediate and Final Enjoyment Ratings (after Adjusting for Initial Ratings)

Note.—Error bars represent standard errors.

One might question why any recovery should occur in the case of eating the nonfavorite jelly beans again since they are not liked that much. In this case, recalling other things that are more preferred still reduces satiation with the less liked flavor. We propose that we still see a reduction in satiation because recalling other items highlights that consumption has been varied, possibly making eating the candy seem less repetitive. Such dishabituation should occur regardless of whether the recalled items are more or less preferred. For example, dishabituation has often been created using mundane yet different habituators like sirens and lights (McSweeney and Swindell 1999), as well as unpleasant interruptions like irritating guitar feedback (Nelson and Meyvis 2008). Given this, it is not surprising that recalling either less liked or more liked items from the past speeds up recovery from satiation.

As a secondary measure of recovery, we also examined participants’ choices. A similar ANOVA on how many of the initially consumed jelly beans people chose revealed a main effect of preference ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ), a main effect of recall ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ), but no interaction ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ). Regardless of whether the intervening jelly beans were more or less preferred to the initially consumed jelly beans, participants chose more of the initially consumed jelly bean when they were reminded of the intervening jelly beans ($$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ) than when reminded of either the initially eaten jelly beans or the filler task (pooled $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ; $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ , $$mathtex$$$$mathtex$$ ). Thus, against the prediction made by a contrast effect alternative explanation, participants recovered faster from satiation when recalling other items they had also eaten regardless of whether those items were more preferred or less preferred than the satiated item.

## General Discussion

Many see satiation as an inevitable, but temporary, consequence of consumption (Thompson and Spencer 1966). The present research questions this view by showing that satiation is constructed at the time of evaluation and can be substantially reduced by the simple act of recalling other consumption experiences one has had since last consuming the temporarily disliked target stimulus. It seems that consumers construct and recover from satiation based on which past episodes easily come to mind. In many ways, people self-inflict much (but not all) of the satiation that makes their favorites less enjoyable. Furthermore, the temporary nature of this satiation is questionable. In the current studies, people did not seem to “spontaneously” recover that well on their own. For example, in study 1, people still found themselves satiated on a particular song after 21 days had passed. Even so, recovery became spontaneous as soon as they recalled other musical artists they had also heard during that time. This suggests that recovery may not be quite so spontaneous after all.

Three empirical studies support this notion of recovery from satiation being constructed in the moment. The results were quite consistent across the studies: reminding people of the variety of consumption experiences they had in the past accelerated recovery. We find this effect whether the domain is primarily physiological (food) or primarily nonphysiological (spending time with a friend and listening to a song). We also demonstrate two boundary conditions: the items recalled must have been consumed in the past, and they must be related to the satiated item. Additionally, we demonstrate that recovery does not occur for an entire category of stimuli but, rather, only for the satiated item. In sum, our results are consistent with the notion that people construct satiation, at least in part, based on the past episodes they recall.

The present work differs from typical approaches found in the literature. Prior work on the effect of recalling past consumption has generally examined how it makes people more satiated on the recalled item (Rozin et al. 1998; Wansink 2004). In a way, we test whether the complement of this, forgetting consumption of other items, also affects satiation. Specifically, we find that recalling the varied experiences one has had in the past can have the inverse effect of reducing satiation and accelerating recovery for that item. Our work also differs from the few studies that have shown that subcategorization of consumption experiences can affect liking during repeated consumption (Raghunathan and Irwin 2001; Redden 2008). These prior works focused on preventing changes in liking before they happen, making particular aspects more salient during consumption, and considering fewer episodes from the past as relevant. In contrast, the present work focuses on recovering from satiation after it happens, making salient other items besides the satiated item and explicitly recalling more episodes from the past. Although both approaches share the goal of reducing the ultimate effect of satiation, the key difference is that prior work has focused on limiting it in the first place while we focus on quickly recovering from it once it happens.

These findings raise some interesting questions about the nature of satiation. When consumers ponder their preference for a given item, to what extent is satiation predetermined by their past experiences versus constructed in the moment? Does satiation continually build up as we consume more of something (i.e., an internal meter), or is it created in part when we consider consuming something? Can merely thinking about variety provide some of the same benefits of actually having variety? For example, in one study, people ate 23% more yogurt if the flavors were varied (Rolls et al. 1981); how much more would they have eaten if they were merely asked to recall other flavors they had ever had? Given the current findings, it is possible that just thinking of variety may reduce satiation much like having the variety itself. Satiation seems to be a fluid and contextual phenomenon and thus opens the door to many ways to fight it. Future work should continue to better understand the specific mechanisms involved in constructing and recovering from satiation.

Although spontaneous recovery was included as a defining feature of habituation over 40 years ago (Thompson and Spencer 1966), very little research has examined the extent to which this phenomenon happens. This article provides a start to understanding how people recover from satiation. We document the generalizability of this effect in three fairly diverse settings. Future research should explore the extent to which our effects generalize across people. For example, it could be that the effect depends on how much a person believes past variety should make him or her feel less satiated (i.e., a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy). Such individual differences in the ability to recover from satiation might be linked even further to happiness. After all, the person who can recover from satiation more quickly and enjoy favorite products and experiences again should lead a happier life.

The current findings also suggest potential explanations for other related phenomena. For example, the rate of recovery from satiation appears to vary widely across product categories. Some people seem to recover and eat the same cereal for breakfast each morning, yet would never consider eating the same entrée for dinner each night. Perhaps this is related to differences in the memorability due in part to the importance placed on these meals in Western society. For example, the routinization of breakfast is unlikely to cause it to become particularly memorable, while the emphasis placed on dinner could lead to more specific memories. When deciding what to eat for dinner, it then becomes easy to recall all the previous times one has had, say, pasta, while that same type of memory is less likely to come to mind when deciding which breakfast food to consume. Similarly, some people may experience a more rapid recovery from satiation across most experiences, and perhaps this individual difference is linked to how readily they recall past variety. Future research should better understand the factors that make a consumption episode particularly satiating far into the future and those that make an episode with variety lead to greater recovery more quickly. In sum, research on the spontaneous recovery from satiation seems to be a promising area for studying consumer happiness.

Another consideration is the categorization of past consumption experiences. Satiation during consumption varies as a function of how stimuli are categorized (Redden 2008), so it is reasonable to assume that the same may be true for recovering from satiation. In our second study, had we framed the decision not as that of listening to a favorite song but, rather, as doing something entertaining, then perhaps thoughts of television shows (our control condition) would also have helped people recover from satiation since they would fall into that category. This suggests that another way to accelerate recovery may be to change the width of consumption categories that consumers think about. By construing experiences in wider categories, perhaps consumers would recall a wider variety of other “related” stimuli they have also experienced, which could reduce satiation.

These findings also lead to an interesting prescription for marketers. If marketers find themselves with customers who are satiated on their product, one potential remedy may be to highlight other related products in their advertisements. For example, an ad for chocolate might include some other desserts in the background. By doing so, consumers might be made to think of other desserts that they recently consumed and thus feel less satiated toward chocolate. Of course, firms should balance this effect with the likely concurrent opposite effect of inadvertently advertising other products and driving the consumer away.

The current findings likely provide more actionable advice to consumers fighting satiation. The recommendation is straightforward: if consumers wish to keep enjoying their favorite experiences, then they should simply think of all the other related experiences they have recently had. For example, the next time you find yourself in the all too common situation of not wanting to eat the same thing for lunch, try to recall all of the other things you have eaten since yesterday’s lunch. Our findings suggest that this will make your current lunch taste just a little bit better.

More generally, satiation presents a real challenge to lasting happiness. Consumers trying to maintain their enjoyment face a moving target in that the enjoyment of the good things in life is fleeting (Brickman and Campbell 1971). Although seeking out variety certainly helps to counter this satiation, the present research suggests that variety may not be enough, as people seem to forget how varied their lives are. Despite the fact that consumers work hard and pay a price to surround themselves with a great deal of variety, they seem to succumb to some sort of variety amnesia and forget the abundance that they live in. If they would only stop and think about how varied their lives really are, they might find themselves less satiated with the things they love and happier as a result.

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