Illustration of clustered shapes.

In a World of Endless Variety, Sometimes Repetition Is Better

Thursday, May 9, 2024

By Charly Haley


Joe Redden
Professor Joe Redden

Have you ever enjoyed listening to a great song over and over? Or kept replaying the same video because it was just so funny?

New research from the University of Minnesota recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research offers insight into why that happens. In fact, “clustering” similar experiences is often more enjoyable than switching things up for variety, the research shows.

Through six studies, Professor Joe Redden, the Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Marketing Analytics at the Carlson School of Management, and Jinjie Chen, ’21 PhD, assistant professor of Marketing at the University of Georgia, found that clustering exposures to the same stimulus—such as eating the same snack or watching the same video repeatedly—slows the decrease of enjoyment, or “hedonic decline,” by allowing people to notice more subtle details during each exposure.

When compared to alternating different snacks or videos, the clustering resulted in more enjoyment among study participants.

“Though the world offers seemingly endless variety, perhaps people move on to the next thing too soon before fully extracting the enjoyment a stimulus can offer,” Redden and Chen wrote in their paper.

These findings offer many real-world applications. “Perhaps an amusement park should encourage people to repeat the same ride several times so they can notice more of the details. Similarly, a museum may benefit from either encouraging consumers to view one exhibit several times or placing similar exhibits (e.g., the different versions of Water Lilies by Monet) together to naturally encourage clustering. … Put simply, consumers need help to fully extract all the enjoyment a repeated experience can offer,” the researchers wrote.

There are some limitations, though, including that:

  • In a highly distracting environment, clustering alone may not be able to trigger greater attention to the details. When study participants were distracted by a flashing screen between viewings of drawings, it didn’t seem to matter whether the drawings were clustered or intermixed.
  • Clustering is more likely to prolong enjoyment of things that are complex and detailed. When study participants viewed simple drawings, clustering no longer slowed hedonic decline.

Still, strategically clustering experiences is useful to both consumers and companies.

“For consumers, our findings offer some practical and easy-to-implement suggestions to potentially enhance some daily experiences,” the researchers wrote. “One may have only a few different photos to view, a few movements to repeat when learning to play the piano, or a limited set of media on a device. When faced with these contexts, our findings identify a simple strategy in clustering that may prolong enjoyment.”

This article appeared in the Spring 2024 Discovery magazine

In this issue, Carlson School faculty research addresses inequities in mental health care, the challenges that migrant workers face, inefficiencies in public-private partnerships, and more.

Spring 2024 table of contents