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Lusting While Loathing

Think of waiting hours to buy concert tickets or to enter a popular nightclub or store on Black Friday, only to face a sellout or denial of entry when you finally reach the head of the line. How do such experiences shape one’s desire for, and appraisal of, the unobtained outcome?

We show how being “jilted”—that is, being thwarted from obtaining a desired outcome—can concurrently increase desire to obtain the outcome, but reduce its actual attractiveness. Thus, people can come to both want something more and like it less. Two experiments illustrate such disjunctions following jilting experiences. In Experiment 1, participants who failed to win a prize were willing to pay more for it than those who won it, but were also more likely to trade it away when they ultimately obtained it. In Experiment 2, failure to obtain an expected reward led to increased choice, but also negatively biased evaluation, of an item that was merely similar to that reward. Such disjunctions were exhibited particularly by individuals low in intensity of felt affect, a finding supporting an emotional basis for relative harmonization of wanting and liking. These results demonstrate how dissociable psychological subsystems for wanting and liking can be driven in opposing directions.

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