In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that people prefer old and familiar activities over hedonic ones that are new and exciting. This means people might prefer revisiting a favorite spot rather than exploring a much-hyped restaurant.
To date, several studies have pointed out that people are drawn to novelty. For instance, choosing to read a new book or watch the latest movie. But the researchers’ analysis revealed that when endings are fast approaching and people have limited time, they automatically opt for something that is old and familiar to them.
The researchers came to this conclusion after conducting eight experiments with 6000 participants. They surveyed the participants based on questions such as whether they would prefer going to a familiar/old restaurant, re-reading a favorite book, or trying out a new restaurant or a new book based on how much time people have left to enjoy experiences.
“Holding constant factors like cost, availability, and convenience between acquiring such options, most of us would likely choose to enjoy yet-unseen movies and long-envisaged desserts,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“Now imagine the same dilemma with one small difference: Your free time this weekend happens to mark your last chance that you will be able to watch any movies for a while (perhaps you are approaching an especially busy time at work) or likewise consume any desserts (perhaps you are about to start a diet). Does this change your choice,” they added.
To answer this question, the researchers first asked 500 online participants and 663 college students to read about hypothetical situations where they were made to choose between a familiar experience and one filled with novelty. While half of them only had to make a choice, the other half were told to imagine that it would be their last chance to read or travel to another location. As opposed to the control group, the ones in the “endings” group overwhelmingly chose familiar and old experiences over brand-new ones.
In their second experiment, they took a step forward and moved from hypothetical to real-life scenarios. The participants were given a gift card to visit any restaurant of their choice within one month. Again, the researchers told them to think of how the participants’ opportunities to visit restaurants might dwindle after a month and what factors might prevent them from eating out at a nice restaurant.
Around 67% of those in the “ending” group chose to go to a restaurant they had previously visited. Whereas only 48% of participants in the control group chose a familiar restaurant.
“The research is especially interesting because, on the surface, it runs counter to the idea of the bucket list, whereby people tend to pursue novelty — things they’ve never done but have always wanted to do — as they approach the end of life,” study author Ed O’Brien of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in a press release. “Here we find that, at least in these more every day ending contexts, people actually do the opposite. They want to end on a high note by ending on a familiar note.”