Do You Seek Out New Experiences? Or Stick With the Things You Know and Love?

Do You Seek Out New Experiences? Or Stick With the Things You Know and Love?

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Imagine it’s a Saturday night and you’re picking out a movie to watch. Do you choose one that you’ve never seen before? Or do you turn on one of your tried-and-true favorites?

In general, when given the chance, do you like to try new music, foods, movies, video games, places and other experiences? Or do you tend to stick with the things you know and love?

In “The Unexpected Joy of Repeat Experiences,” Leah Fessler writes about why novelty might be overrated:

Scrolling through Instagram can quickly convince you that everyone’s life is more interesting than yours. During a particularly adventurous week on Instagram Stories recently, I saw water skiing in Maui, hiking in Yosemite and swimming with wild pigs in Bermuda. Wild pigs!

Impulsively, I started Googling flights to new places. Then I ordered pho from the same Vietnamese place I eat at every week and … felt bad about not trying somewhere new.

This fear of missing out is rooted in a common psychological tic: Evolutionarily, we’re disposed to find novel experiences more exciting and attention-grabbing than repeat experiences, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It’s basically fight or flight psychology — our brains can’t process all the stimuli around us, so we evolved to pay attention to new, flashy and potentially dangerous things more intently than familiar things, which we’ve seen enough to know they’re not dangerous. What’s more, words like “repetition” and “repetitiveness” — unlike “novelty” — tend to be associated with more negative emotions, said Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School.

“Classic research shows that when we think about upcoming experiences, we think about variety,” said Mr. Norton, who specializes in consumer behavior. “If I ask you right now to select a yogurt for each day next week, you’ll pick your favorite flavor — say, blueberry — a few times, but you’ll mix in some strawberry and peach. Because who wants to eat that much blueberry yogurt? Over the longer term, though, as the original experience fades in time and memory, repetition can become more pleasurable.”

He added: “We’re simply more boring than we’d like to admit.”

The article continues:

Some previous research has painted a negative picture of repeat experiences, citing that doing the same thing twice can feel inherently less valuable. But Ed O’Brien, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, wondered whether behavioral science misconstrued hedonic adaptation, and people actually underestimate how positively they react to repeat experiences. Many of us happily listen to our favorite song on repeat, he noted, or rewatch favorite movies and TV shows. This repetition was the whole point of purchasing music or film before the age of Spotify and Netflix. This conflict is why Mr. O’Brien launched a series of studies on the topic.

“There’s a general belief that if you want to seem like an interesting, cultured person, the best thing you can do is to showcase that you’re open to new experiences,” he said. “That may be true, but I think we take for granted the other value of really digging deep into one domain.”

To test this hypothesis, Mr. O’Brien and his team exposed all participants to the same stimulus once in full (various stimuli were tested, including museum visits, movies and video games). Next, some participants were asked to imagine repeating the experience, while others actually did repeat the experience.

Counter to previous research, Mr. O’Brien found that across the board, repeat experiences were far more enjoyable than participants predicted.

“Doing something once may engender an inflated sense that one has now seen ‘it,’ leaving people naïve to the missed nuances remaining to enjoy,” he wrote in the study.

In other words: You’re far more likely to enjoy something the second time around than you think.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Do you tend to seek out novel experiences — like reading new books, trying new foods or listening to new music? Or do you prefer to stick with the things you know and love? Why?

  • If you like repeat experiences, what is one thing — whether it’s a song, movie, food, place or anything else — that you have experienced over and over again? What have you gotten out of repeating this experience?

  • If you like new experiences, has this article convinced you that repeat experiences could be enjoyable? If so, what is one experience that you would like to have again and why?

  • Which do you think is more valuable: trying something new, or digging deep into one experience by doing it over and over again? Why?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.