Hedonic Consumption Dissertation Proposal

,      Pages 265-269

, 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.]

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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.





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.]


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.


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.


,      Pages 367-373

, The Florida State University

[The author gratefully acknowledges the conceptual inspiration of Dick Mizerski, the analytic and editorial help of Dennis White, and the overall support of Marya Pucely in the writing of this paper.]

Hedonic consumption is a relatively new field of study in consumer research. It offers a complimenting paradigm to the one of traditional information processing, focusing on the "experiential" aspects of the consumption experience which are subjectively based, such as sensation seeking, emotional arousal and fantasizing. To date, most studies have focused on consumer traits that would predict hedonic consumption as opposed to product traits that might elicit hedonic consumption. The study of music is proposed as an avenue for researching what characteristics of the person and the product interact to prompt consumption of hedonic products. A model for studying music as a product is presented.


Hedonic consumption is a relatively new field of study in consumer research that addresses the multisensory, fantasy and emotive aspects of product use (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). It explores the consumption experience not as an information-processing event but via a phenomenological or "experiential view" defined as "a primarily subjective state of consciousness with a variety of symbolic meaning, hedonic responses and esthetic criteria" (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982, p. 132). Hedonic products include those which arouse the emotions, aesthetic products such as literature, visual arts, and drama. The current paper focuses on one particular hedonic product category: music.

Music is very much a part of our daily lives. Billboard reports that recorded music is the fastest growing segment in the communications industry with projected sales to reach $6.1 billion in 1991 (Lichtman 1987, Mehler 1987). There is also a strong secondary market which includes concerts and electronic equipment. Marketing studies have explored music's effects in advertising (e.g. Park and Young 1986), the role of music in classical conditioning experiments (Gorn 1982, Bierley, McSweeney and Vannieuwkerk 1985), and the effect of music as a background on purchase behavior (Milliman 1986, 1982, Smith and Curnow 1966). Yet, very little has been done in the way of consumer research to explore why people "consume" music. The treatment of music as a product has been relatively ignored. Music has a unique characteristic in that it is initially consumed, generally speaking, through the radio and/or television media before it is purchased. One usually hears the music through some media vehicle before buying it. [Some consumers may purchase a new release on the strength of their knowledge of the artist or composer without previous exposure. However, the author maintains that the consumer has expectations either based on projections from previous experience or on "review" recommendations similar to those given for new books and movies.] Consumption of music is also repetitive. One buys recorded music to be able to experience the music more than one time and to be in temporal control of the consumption. Psychologists and music educators are interested in studying the human reactions to music, the former group to understand aesthetic behavior (e.g., Berlyne 1971) and the latter group to influence it (Yingling 1962, Trolio 1976). Research in the psychology of music has three areas of interest, composition, performance, and listening, or music appreciation (Sloboda 1985). While each area has unique properties for research, the emphasis of this study focuses on the listener/consumer. A shortcoming in the music research literature is its almost total exclusion of popular music. Psychology of music studies commonly ignore examples of music other than "serious". (Konecni 1982). A few characteristics of popular music have been studied in this context (e.g., Russell 1986), but the field remains largely unexplored. Considering the amount of dollars and time spent on popular music, research which focuses on popular music can, no doubt, contribute to the advancement of understanding the phenomenon of music listening.

The purpose of this paper is to suggest research avenues for music as a product. Its objectives are to blend the marketing and music literature to define what characteristics of consumers and what characteristics of music interact to produce consumption/purchase and present a viable explanation of music preference and purchase behavior. First, the hedonic consumption literature is analyzed. Second, research in the psychology of music is presented, focusing on studies that might relate to music preference, to define what variables are involved in processing and responding to music. Lastly, a paradigm for studying music as a product is advanced, which will incorporate the variables and responses which may have the strongest influence on music preference and purchase behavior.


Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) introduce hedonic consumption as an explanation for the consumer behaviors that deal with the multisensory, fantasy and emotive phases of product usage experience. The authors define four hedonic perspectives: mental constructs, product classes, product usage, and individual differences. The basic area of concern for all the perspectives is the role that the subjective, emotional part of man plays and to what extent it may dominate a consumption/purchase situation. These hedonic perspectives are meant to enhance, not replace, traditional consumer behavior theories. In a similar article, Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) compare an information processing model of consumer behavior, arguing that while much of consumer behavior can be explained by conventional research, it neglects an important segment of the consumption experience, namely, fantasies, feelings and fun (e.g., leisure activities, variety seeking, sensation seeking, hedonic response). One objective of hedonic consumption research is to monitor and predict emotional reactions and fantasy imagery during product usage. What is necessary also are measures which predict what reactions (responses) cause a person to purchase a particular hedonic product.

Hirschman (1983) identifies four types of hedonic behavior. Problem projection proposes that people engage in activities which confront them with unhappy realities in order to better cope with these situations. Role projection is those activities which permit individuals to self-project into a particular role or character. Fantasy fulfillment purchasing is the use of products to help construct fantasies and augment reality. Escapism is those activities which allow the individual to escape unpleasant realities or distract themselves from unpleasant events. The author analyzes these different types of behavior against the demographic predictors of age, education, occupational status and birth order and the sociophysical predictors of ethnicity, imagery, social isolation, novelty seeking, sensation seeking, adult information exposure and childhood stimulation exposure to ascertain the characteristics of persons who engaged in each type of behavior. In a similar study, Hirschman (1984) uses the aforementioned demographic and sociophysical predictors to identify the consumer who engages in experience seeking. Experience seeking is defined as an overall phenomenon that represents consumption as the generation of internal thoughts and/or sensations which constitute the content of the experience. Experience seeking is the weighted average of three constructs, cognition seeking - experience sought to stimulate thought processes, sensation seeking experience sought to stimulate the senses, and novelty seeking - the desire to seek out novel stimuli. Both studies found descriptive background characteristics that help define these different consumer behavior profiles.

Some methodology testing has also occurred in the area of hedonic consumption. Havlena and Holbrook (1986) compare two typologies of emotion, Mehrabian and Russell's PAD dimensions and Plutchik's emotional categories. Using reliability, internal validity and external convergent validity as criteria, the authors' results favor the Mehrabian and Russell approach. Holbrook (1986) investigates aesthetic responses to design features in clothing using canonical correlations analysis. He uses the independent internal variables of visualizing/verbalizing tendency, intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, and romanticism/classicism and devises measurements of them. Results show that these variables do, in fact, influence aesthetic responses to clothes design. As Holbrook notes, a limitation in this study is the utilitarian nature of clothing interacting with the aesthetic dimension.

The research reviewed above has focused more on hedonic behaviors than on products. When a product was studied it had some non-hedonic or practical value. The study of music as a product would provide a more purely hedonic focus.

Reasons for listening to music

According to Sloboda (1985), "The reason that most of us take part in musical activity, be it composing, performing, or listening, is that music is capable of arousing in us deep and significant emotions," a position echoed by Havlena and Holbrook (1986). On the analytical side, Hantz (1984) argues that "music (or musical thinking) offers a more direct access to mental process than, say speech; since the manipulation of perception and recall is so central to it" (p. 246). Listening to music require,s the discrimination and assimilation of melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo and instrumentation, to name a few of the elements of music, via a series of complex and as yet rather unexplainable processes (Sloboda 1985). Hirschman (1984) describes one type of consumer behavior as cognition seeking, where an individual seeks to discern cause and effect relationships. It follows that music can also provide cognitive stimulation.

Music listening is also influenced by social factors. Although there is no denying the possibility of some primitive responses to music, most of our responses to music are learned. At an early age we learn to discern the cultural characteristics of musIc. Minor mode and slow tempo may denote sadness in Western music; however, no such cultural meaning is placed on Eastern music. In other words, what sounds sad to a Westerner may not sound sad to an Easterner (Sloboda 1985). Social pressures, such as peer pressure among teenagers, may also help to decide what an individual will purchase. Music may be purchased as much for its social status as its own intrinsic value. A Yuppie may buy assorted classical works to impress his/her superiors. People use music to facilitate and/or supplement social situations. Going to a concert may be as much a social event (i.e., dressing in a tuxedo) as it is a musical event.


Prince (1972) offered an extensive paradigm for research on music listening involving three general variable categories, listener characteristics, affective and associative responses and perceptual and learning processes. Listener characteristics include personality, musical ability, and socially-educationally derived attitudes toward music. The listener's general state of attention may be influenced by these characteristics. Affective and associative responses include physical changes, feeling-tone responses, and visual images, all of which interact with each other. These responses are input for the perception of patterns and musical preference. Perceptual and learning processes encompass the entire gambit of information processing variables including memory storage and retrieval, concept development and insights. Music preference may also result from the cognitive understanding of the music.

Listener characteristics

In a review of the psychology literature, Berlyne (1971) addresses the different aspects of individual differences as they pertain to aesthetic behavior. Five principle traits are found to influence aesthetic appreciation: 1) tolerance of complex situations; 2) tolerance of ambiguity of feelings or perceptions; 3)breadth of attention and the accuracy with which details of objects or events are noted; 4) independence of judgment; and 5)a capacity to escape the everyday and take interest in the unusual aspects of things (i.e., stop and smell the roses along the way). The first three traits indicate a willingness to approach and explore novel situations and the fifth a propensity to experience phenomena. Hirschman (1980) describes the consumer construct of inherent novelty/seeking innovativeness which is the desire of the individual to seek out novel stimuli. Wheeler (1985), reviewing just the music literature, also found evidence to suggest that the manner in which people play and respond to music may provide information about their personalities. However, since different personality scales were used in the different studies, results were difficult to compare. In her study on the relationship of personal characteristics on mood and music enjoyment, Wheeler used the Personality Research Form (PRF), FormE, which encompasses 22 scales, and got some rather ambiguous results. Musical preference was defined as a person's liking of the music at a particular moment with no long-term commitment. Musical taste was defined as a long term commitment to musical style. The study found that taste predicted preference, in this case, liking jazz and classical music predicted liking the selection of music, which was Chopin's Barcarolle. Musical taste was divided into the seven style categories of rock, disco, country, classical, folk, jazz, and soul. Not one of the 22 scales appeared in all seven categories, therefore, it was concluded that no specific characteristics predicted taste across musical styles. This finding may be due to the narrowness of the PRF scales. No one PRF scale encompassed all five of the aforementioned traits. However the scales that do show up more frequently have elements of the five traits, therefore giving some credence to perhaps a "bundle" of traits that could predict purchase preference.

Proposition 1: Personality traits that emphasize the individual's propensity to approach, explore and experience novel phenomena will be positively correlated to their music preferences and frequency of consumption.

The intensity or magnitude of an experienced emotion is an important aspect of any emotional response. Larsen and Diener (1987) present as a stable individual characteristic, the notion of affect intensity, defined as the typical intensity with which individuals experience their emotions. Affect intensity is anchored on one end by people who experience their emotions mildly with little fluctuation and on the other end by people who experience their emotions strongly and who are emotionally reactive and variable. "Given the same level of emotional stimulation, individuals high on the affect intensity dimension will exhibit stronger emotional responses, regardless of the specific emotion provoked" (p. 2). Affect intensity differs from emotional variability in that affect intensity does not measure frequency of the experienced states, only the magnitude. The premise is that over time, people who experience intense positive affect will also experience intense negative affect. In reviewing the literature the authors find that individuals who score high on affect intensity tend to engage in day-to-day activities that are more emotion provoking than do low affect intensity. This characteristic could be a partial explanation for listening to music. Music is an activity- that can provide emotional stimulus on a daily basis. It would logically follow that high affect intensity people would engage in more frequent consumption of music.

Proposition 2: The higher a person's affect intensity, the more an individual will consume music.

A controversy within the music community concerns the role of music training in the appreciation and enjoyment of music. Ortmann (1927) proposes that training has a strong effect on reactions to music. The more training one has the more one enjoys music. Responses of the trained and untrained listener were found to be markedly different by Hargreaves (1982), with the trained listener focusing more on the objective aspects of music and the untrained listener on the subjective aspects of music. Focusing on the analytical detracts from the emotional, which is the more natural way to respond to music (Yingling 1962). Edmonston (1966), however, found that music training did not enhance or disrupt one's appreciation. This particular variable is of some interest as it pertains to different music styles and its role in influencing music preferences needs clarification.

Proposition 3: Music training should not interfere with music preferences unless it blocks the individual's ability to experience the emotion of the music.

Responses to music

Psychologists and music educators have conducted numerous studies in the search to identify and categorize the listener responses to music. A review of representative studies (shown in Table 1) show a clear consensus that music evokes the broad categories of sensory, emotional, associative (imaginal), and analytical (objective/cognitive) responses. Sensory includes the primal responses to music, the motions and attractions that are inspired by the music. Emotional represents the feelings one has such as joy, sadness, or rage. Associative depicts the images, memories or situations that the music evokes, which is outside of the actual musical content. Finally, analytical describes the objective, cause-effect, logical sorting of the music in which a person may engage. [Note that Prince's paradigm encompasses the four musical responses. The interaction of the affective and associative responses can be likened to the sensory, emotional and associative responses. Perceptual and learning processes, especially those of concept development and insight strongly suggest the analytical response.]



Affective responses

As stated earlier, emotion is one of the primary ingredients of music appreciation. Meyers (1956) contends that "Emotion or affect is aroused when a tendency to respond is arrested or inhibited" (p. 14). Pleasant emotions are those that are aroused and then resolved properly. Music is pleasing if it first arouses apprehension and then dispells it.

Payne (1961) takes emotion a step further to the concept of aesthetic emotion, emotion that is involved in experience or contemplation of the arts. Aesthetic emotion is defined as a generalized mood, or a feeling of worthiness, inspiration or exultation. In her study she shows that: 1) Aesthetic emotion is more extensively experienced than everyday or specific emotion; 2) People sometimes do not participate in the emotion of the music, but only recognize it; and 3) Music possesses both an emotional and intellectual element.

Proposition 4: The more pleasingly emotional the music, the greater preference for the music.

Another area correlated to that of emotion is the notion of the intensity or "experiential" aspect of music which corresponds to Prince's (1972) feeling-tone responses. Swanson (1978) defines "experiential" as a person being moved from within by purposes that are simply not his own, with participation being, in part, voluntary. Other terms for this phenomenon may be amount of participation or absorption. Numerous studies show this aspect of music. Myers (1914), calls this the intra-subjective response to music, where the subjects describe "Sometimes I lose myself in the music...I felt the effect of being carried away, partly emotional, partly strain and tenseness of body." However, Myers points out that the "surrender must be under voluntary control" or the subjects distrust the responses. Ortmann (1927) describes a sensorial response to music, which he explains as a psychological necessity. This sensorial response is the foundation for all "higher level" responses to music. Building from Myers and Ortmann, Yingling (1962) defines sensory as "Responses which evidence tension of posture, actual or incipient motion of the body or parts of it, or an awareness of a need for the listener to approach or withdraw from the source of the music or source of tension connoted in the music".

Zajonc and Markus (1982) state "A preference is a behavior tendency that exhibits itself not so much in what the individual thinks or says about the object, but how s/he acts toward it...The study of attitudes, aesthetics, decision-making and consumer preferences must take as its basic aim the prediction of what is taken, approached, bought and married" (p. 128). As Payne (1961) found, one may recognize but not participate in the emotion of the music. Sloboda (1985) confirms this notion of being aware of but not participating in the emotion of the music. A key to music preference may be the music's ability to draw in the consumer, its experiential power.

Proposition 5: The more absorbing or "experiential" the music, the greater the preference for the music.

Perceptual and learning processes

It is not in the scope of this paper to do an exhaustive review of the cognitive literature. For a very up-to-date presentation of the field the reader is advised to consult Sloboda's The Musical Mind - The Cognitive Study of Music. In his book, Sloboda points out that cognitive theories have done well at explaining the "how" of music listening; however, they have not done all that well at explaining the "why". Mathematical formulas developed under information theory can be used to measure information but cannot be used to measure affect (Trolio 1976).


From the research mentioned above it is apparent that certain variables may be strong predictors of music preference and purchase behavior, as illustrated in Figure 1. The individual's propensity to approach, explore and experience phenomena and affect intensity dimension will positively impact the emotional and experiential responses. Musical training should correlate positively to analytical music responses. Of these responses, it appears that the emotional and experiential responses would have a positive impact on music preference while a strong analytical response might have a negative effect on music preference and purchase if it dampens the other responses. Music preference will have a positive relationship toward purchase behavior.

Managerial implications

The ability to predict music preference would be a help to the music business. Hurley (1986) reports that picking new musical groups to promote is at best a combination of experience, intuition and luck, with failures as prevalent as successes. At this point, cognitive research does little to explain creativity and taste. People who are picking winners are going with their gut feelings. As one editor put it, "I just hope that if I can't put a book down, there are thousands of other people who can't either" (p. 24). It does not take an heroic leap of imagination to see that her hedonic, or experiential view is what draws her most to a book. More to the point she believes that is what will sell the book to the public.



Hedonic consumption is a significant part of our daily lives, exemplified by our consumption of music. Thanks to the phonograph, radio and television, music is now easily accessible and impacting our lives in this century more than any other century before (Konecni 1982). To date, consumer researchers have not empirically tested these hedonic products. Considering the growth of the record industry, it is important to understand and predict the elements of a hedonic product that impel the consumer to purchase the product. Music as a product provides consumer researchers with a viable, researchable product whose basic psychology is well studied. Explaining the consumption of popular music will also fill a gap now prevalent in the music research literature. A study of the experiential aspects of music will benefit both consumer research and music research.


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