Play It Again, Sam!

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Bethany Hubbard/SCIENCE IN SOCIETY

I’m that person who listens to the same song over and over. If I’m into a new album, I’ll put it on repeat for weeks on end…until something else catches my fancy. In the past, my serial song habits were a well-kept secret. Then came Spotify. Suddenly the whole world can see just how many times I’ve listened to Norah Jones’ “Little Broken Hearts” – 209 times according to Facebook, which keeps a running tally. I’m not ashamed of this fact. It is, after all, a great album. But, I can’t help but wonder what makes us reconsume, whether it’s a good book you pick up again and again, or a movie you never tire of watching, or a vacation spot you return to each year.

New research from American University suggests that the fact that you’ve watched “Titanic” 10 times, and still can’t get enough, is driven by more than a simple high school crush on Leo. Such reconsumption “is due to the guaranteed outcome, the enhanced viewing that results from the repeated action, or the rediscovery of subtle details,” like Rose’s mysterious migrating beauty mark.

Cristel Russell and Sidney J. Levy, who both teach in the university’s marketing department, interviewed people in New Zealand and the United States to determine what makes us repeat hedonic experiences. You’ll have to wait until August 2012, when the findings will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, to read the full results, but Russell and Levy offered a sneak peek on AU’s website.

“We determined that reconsumption behaviors serve five main purposes: regressive, progressive, reconstructive, relational, and reflective,” Russell said. “The reasoning that people had for their repeat behaviors was far more complex than simply nostalgia. For people to take time out of their busy lives to do something over and over again, the motivations required were usually deep-seated and poignant.”

Russell and Levy assert that the digital age, with DVR, YouTube and Netflix, has made it even easier for us to “access previously consumed hedonic products.” We no longer have to wait for a network to rerun our favorite movie or episode; we can simply download or stream it ourselves.

“Consumers gain richer and deeper insights into the reconsumption object itself but also an enhanced awareness of their own growth in understanding and appreciation through the lens of the reconsumption object,” Russell and Levy write.

I’ll remember this next time I hit replay on a favorite tune, or willingly sit through a repeat episode of “How I Met Your Mother.” Yes, I am quite fond of Jason Segel, but it’s deeper than that.

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