Hedonic motivation is a type of motivation that aims to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, as opposed to eudaimonic.

Hedonic motivation is sometimes referred to as “pleasure” or “satisfaction.” The term was coined by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Hedonism refers to an extreme form of hedonic motivation and is often criticized for being selfish or seeking short-term pleasure at the expense of long-term goals.

Hedonic motivation

Hedonic motivation can be traced to the survival instincts of animals. Satisfying basic needs, such as eating and sleeping, can all be seen as hedonic activities.

Because Maslow attributed hedonic motivation to the lowest level of his hierarchy of needs (physiological, safety and security, social belonging, esteem) he is sometimes criticized for underestimating the significance of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Maslow, in fact, encouraged thinking about human behaviour in positive rather than negative terms.

Hedonic motivation is often compared to (or confused with) materialism, the pursuit of wealth and possessions. Hedonism and materialism do tend to coincide but they differ in some important respects. For example, it might be argued that there is a stronger psychological connection between pain and poverty than between pleasure and wealth; there may be more pleasure associated with having a book than owning a car and more pain associated with losing your book than your car. Hedonism, therefore, does not lead to materialism.

Some beliefs about hedonism imply that pleasure can never be pursued for its own sake. For example, it might be argued that a drug addict is not pursuing pleasure itself, but the alleviation of pain. However, this implies an impossible position – you cannot pursue the relief of pain unless you are first pursuing pleasure; much as someone without tea cannot be said to be pursuing tea.

What are examples of hedonic motivation?

To get a better understanding of hedonic motivation here are some examples of hedonic behaviours:

  1. Smoking, drunk and drugging – these are all behaviours that are motivated by the avoidance of pain (craving for artificial pleasure). This can be seen as the pursuit of pain relief or a feeling of pleasure, rather than an activity that is pursued for its own sake and which may perform other important functions to health and wellbeing.
  2. Taking up new activities such as sport or reading a book may be motivated solely by the potential enjoyment that can be derived from them. However, when an individual progresses within a certain activity or begins to compete at a higher level, then the motivation for that behaviour may change from hedonic to a more eudaimonic aim of achievement.
  3. People who are highly motivated to help other people may do so because they derive pleasure from doing that, rather than doing it to gain recognition or become successful themselves.

What are the criticisms of hedonic motivation?

Pleasure and Pain are two of the most basic human emotions and both can be extremely powerful in motivating people. However, pleasure is an easier emotion to satisfy than pain while avoiding it is often a lot easier than actually pursuing it.

Logically there is no reason why pleasure can’t be pursued either for its own sake or because of the associated pleasure it can produce. After all, pleasure and pain are of equal importance to us in determining our behaviour. The common criticism that hedonic motivation is selfish, therefore, does hold some merit to it if one believes that anything a person does for themselves should be conducive to their own wellbeing or performance.

How is hedonic motivation used in consumer behaviour?

Hedonic motivation is believed to be used in consumer behaviour to persuade people to want things that they would not want otherwise. Marketers commonly try to associate their products with feelings and emotions so consumers feel pleasure when thinking about the product, and the desire for that feeling can be a powerful motivator for buying the product.

Marketers may also try to associate products with pain in order to make customers feel uncomfortable if they are without that product. For example, when a person has an infected sore on their teeth they will try to buy the product that will help them relieve the pain.

The Maslow hierarchy of needs is one method of explaining hedonic motivation and has been used by marketers to create hedonic brands or services. For example, Pepsi have tried to associate their drinks with a ‘fun feeling’.

It may be argued that music is similar in this respect. Music can provoke certain emotions which can also help people learn about different cultures around the world. Different cultures may have different types of music, which are all hedonic. But, at the same time, music has been used for centuries as a way of helping people learn to read.

Understanding the difference between hedonic motivation and materialism

In this section we will examine how hedonic motivation differs from materialism. Any discussion of hedonic and materialist motivations should include the following three aspects:

  1. The nature of the product or service, including whether it is for personal use only or can be used in a wider scope in society. There are many varieties of products (e.g., cars, furniture, books) which may be purchased for their own sake or used to achieve a wider benefit for the individual or a larger group of people.
  2. The attitude involved in acquiring the product or service. The desire for material wealth is often seen as being associated with greed, avarice and selfishness, but people may be greedy for love and friendship just as much as for money.
  3. The motivation of the individual towards acquiring the product or service. There are many factors that may influence this decision (e.g., personality, income etc.). However, physical pain (such as hunger) or psychological pain may also influence the motivation to pursue ‘pleasure’.

Conclusion

With this information, you should now be able to define hedonic and materialistic motivation, their differences, and what role they play in consumer behaviour. Although there is a large percentage of people who are motivated by hedonic attraction, there are also those who are motivated by material wealth or the pleasure associated with products.

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