Here’s An Interesting Psychology Question

Lynne Kiesling

I am sitting alone in my living room catching up on the day while I await the arrival of the KP Spouse so we can dine. I am indulging in a favorite alone pleasure: Virgin Radio UK on the spiffy music server (it’s too pop-y for the KP Spouse).

Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To” has just come on. I love love love Franz Ferdinand. I have both of their CDs, and I have played them to death; I can play this song in my head and sing it in its entirety, and can play it any time I want on the home stereo, my computer, or my iPod.

So here’s the question: why does the unexpected pleasure of hearing it on the radio produce such a frisson of pleasure? Why is the experience of hearing it in this context so different, and so pleasurable? It’s not like it’s a scarce good; I own it, can play it whenever I want, as much as I want.

I find the same thing with DVDs I own, particularly with episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Even though I own them, whenever I come across them on TV I watch them, and am excited to find them.

Why?

Ooooh, now Virgin Radio UK is playing Human League! How can the KP Spouse not like this? Oooh, now they’re playing Snow Patrol “Chasing Cars”! I was just listening to this on the way home! So why am I so excited that they’re playing it?


10 thoughts on “Here’s An Interesting Psychology Question

  1. I feel the same way as you when a song/movie I prefer (and own) makes it to the airwaves.

    I believe it confirms that others than I draw pleasure from the same medium. This belief positively reinforces that I have made good choices when it comes to entertainment.

  2. When you are a writer in “knowledge” stuff, you have a self image of someone intellectual and loney. People like you dont listen to Franz Ferndinand. So it comforts you that you belong to a fan group. You belong too that crowd.

    Secondly, havent you ever wondered why other people’s spouse look always better even if you have the most handsome/beautiful spouse? Guess, its the same.

    Thirdly, radio mixes bad music with good music (this goodness being personal evaluation). Remember the experience of starved nazi camp survivors, who found even normal stuffs (food etc) so amazing.

  3. When you are a writer in “knowledge” stuff, you have a self image of someone intellectual and loney. People like you dont listen to Franz Ferndinand. So it comforts you that you belong to a fan group. You belong too that crowd.

    Secondly, havent you ever wondered why other people’s spouse look always better even if you have the most handsome/beautiful spouse? Guess, its the same.

    Thirdly, radio mixes bad music with good music (this goodness being personal evaluation). Remember the experience of starved nazi camp survivors, who found even normal stuffs (food etc) so amazing.

  4. Shouldn’t the question be, why don’t you play the song ALL the time, when he obviously gives you such pleasure?

    Just because you CAN play it all the time, you still don’t play it all the time (or the pleasure surely drops). You yourself create the scarcity of the good, at least imo.

    If you’d use the full demand curve, the song would soon be dull and repetitive and you wouldn’t want to hear it for some time.

  5. Chicks like Monty Python? Wow. You’re like a closet engineer or something.

    Actually, if you liked Monty Python AND Rush, you’d be an engineer. I don’t know what it is about Rush, but engineers are unaturally atracted to their music.

  6. Wrong paradigm. Why should you reach for scarcity as an explanation for pleasure? Too great a devotion to your toolset, maybe.

    Unless you are truly deprived, you can have a dog with mustard and kraut anytime you want. Don’t you still feel a little lift as you approach your favorite hot dog vendor? Economics has good tools for dealing with preference. Not so much with pleasure.

  7. Wrong paradigm. Why should you reach for scarcity as an explanation for pleasure? Too great a devotion to your toolset, maybe.

    Unless you are truly deprived, you can have a dog with mustard and kraut anytime you want. Don’t you still feel a little lift as you approach your favorite hot dog vendor? Economics has good tools for dealing with preference. Not so much with pleasure.

  8. I’ve noticed this also. I’ve typically categorized it under “wow, that’s a pleasant surprise.” I pretty much only listen to radio on car trips shorter than half an album and sans kids, and part of what’s happening is that someone _else_ is choosing the music. Some is good, some not so much, but then they play that really great song — it’s irrelevant that you have the CD, it’s a cool surprise that this other person picking the tunes has picked one of your faves.

  9. Well, I like Monty Python, but I didn’t like Rush, although their texts are good (I especially don’t like much of the Rock Genre anymore, although I was a big fan in my teenager years). Still, I am going to be a mechanical engineer, so may be I am the exception of the rule 🙂

    Still, I think perhaps neuro-economics could shed some light on the happiness-related emotional “distress”.

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