50 Shades of Sensual: New Research Uncovers Motivations of Hedonists

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Zenzi Communications and Partners Release Study that Finds Not All Types of Pleasure-Seeking Behavior is Unhealthy

Hollywood, popular literature, and society have built up the mystique of the pleasure-seeker, from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’ to today’s Christian Grey of ‘50 Shades’

Researchers from San Francisco State University, the University of California at Irvine, and Zenzi Communications have released a study on hedonists: individuals who prioritize pleasure over other life values. “The Portrait of a Hedonist: The Personality and Ethics Behind the Value and Maladaptive Pursuit of Pleasure” reveals that two types of hedonists exist, as well the personality and ethical differences between them. Although some people may pursue their desire for pleasure into over-indulgence, the value of pleasure itself is not unhealthy.

“Hollywood, popular literature, and society have built up the mystique of the pleasure-seeker, from Oscar Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’ to today’s Christian Grey of ‘50 Shades’. These individuals are often portrayed as impulsive and focused on pleasure without caring for meaning and consequences, leaving them deeply unhappy,” said Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., associate professor, Psychology Department, San Francisco State University, and co-founder of Beyond the Purchase.

“But based on our research, it is important to distinguish that there are different types of people who fall into the group of pleasure-seekers and that they have different motivations, reactions, and values. The research holds huge potential for brands with products that ultimately provide pleasure for their customers, and to help better understand those audiences.”

The study was conducted by Masha Ksendzova and Ryan T. Howell from San Francisco State University; Sean P. Wojcik from the University of California at Irvine; Ravi Iyer and Graham Hill from values-based marketing agency Zenzi Communications.

Specifically, it looks at the distinction between value-based hedonists (people who value pleasure over all other values) and maladaptive hedonists (those that engage in dysfunctional or excessive pleasure-seeking). It finds that values-based hedonists tend to have a distinct moral profile (i.e., they are less likely to endorse moral foundations associated with social conservatism, ascribe moral relevance to obeying authority, maintaining purity, and self-control). When it comes to personality traits, these individuals differ little from those that show favoritism toward security, tradition or other value types.

Maladaptive hedonists, on the other hand, are best predicted by their personality traits (i.e., being more neurotic, less agreeable, and less conscientious). Results suggest that people who tend to pursue pleasure maladaptively may do so for the sake of doing the pleasurable activity versus having different moral principles from those that do not.

These findings on pleasure-seekers will be incorporated into Zenzi Communications’ ValueBase, a comprehensive database of customer purchase motivations. Based on decades of proven psychological research, Zenzi’s values-based practice takes demographic segmentation a critical step further by uncovering the inner needs and desires that drive buying behavior. Zenzi uses this information to help businesses grow loyalty and forge deeper relationships with customers.

Pleasure-seekers are just one of six core value types in Zenzi’s ValueBase. To discover your own values and how they relate to your spending and happiness, take the Social Values scale at: http://www.beyondthepurchase.org/explore.php

About Zenzi:
Zenzi is an award-winning agency leading the values-based marketing movement. We uncover the inner desires behind your best customers’ purchase decisions and leverage those insights across PR, marketing, social media and content creation. We have pioneered an insights-based approach that combines traditional marketing tactics with data science and psychology. We put your customer’s needs at the center, creating and syndicating content that people will actively seek, consume, engage with and share.

About Beyond The Purchase:
Beyond the Purchase allows individuals all over the world to take free psychology quizzes to find out how their spending choices affect their happiness. The academic website uses peer-reviewed published psychological surveys to provide individual's with personalized feedback, graphics, and practical happiness tips. The company also offers many services for businesses, including: online questionnaire and survey hosting, employee education about consumer psychology, and happiness metrics.

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Christina Jesson
Zenzi Communications
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