NEW YORK - From amusement parks to live entertainment to nightlife to video games, a major segment of the economy is dedicated to the marketing and selling of fun experiences. While fun is familiarly conceptualized as enjoyment or pleasure, the psychological functions behind fun experiences remain largely unexplored. Columbia Business School Kravis Professor of Business Michel Tuan Pham offers a new definition of fun as an experience of liberated engagement: a temporary emancipation from psychological limitation through a hedonically-stimulating activity.
Professor Pham and his colleague, Yeshiva University Professor Travis Tae Oh, developed a new theory of liberating-engagement that builds upon the historical definition of fun and explores the relationship between fun and happiness. The researchers employed a multi-method research approach that included in-depth interviews, experiments, statistical modeling, and photo-ethnography. Through their methodology, they identify two main psychological pillars that comprise the feeling of having fun: a state of hedonic engagement and a sense of liberation. The researchers also identify four situational factors that foster the experience of fun: novelty, social connectedness, spontaneity, spatial/temporal boundedness. Ultimately, they find that while the feeling of having fun is not necessarily the direct result of purchased entertainment or leisure, it often occurs within the overall context of spending. The researchers conclude that businesses can use the liberating engagement theory of fun as a recipe for designing, marketing, and selling fun experiences to potential customers.
These findings illustrate clear dimensions for the psychology of fun in paid entertainment and leisure activities, revealing that “fun” purchases can be empowering when they enable individuals to liberate themselves from the burdens of everyday life. In other words, this empowerment is rooted in the freedom that watching a movie, going shopping, or videogaming provide—not the movie, store, or videogame itself. Thus, this research explains why people are more willing to partake in some activities—like finally saying “yes” to dinner with an acquaintance or trying out a new, daunting hobby—than they were before the pandemic.
The study, A Liberating-engagement Theory of Consumer Fun, is available online here.
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Michel Tuan Pham
Professor Pham’s business expertise covers the areas of marketing strategy and management, branding, customer and consumer psychology, trademark psychology, marketing communication, and...Read more.