These discrepancies illustrate O’Brien’s finding well: It’s not that watching a movie for the second time in 24 hours is just as enjoyable as the first time—it probably won’t be. But it does seem likely to be more pleasant than one would predict.
In general, psychological and behavioral-economics research has found that when people make decisions about what they think they’ll enjoy, they often assign priority to unfamiliar experiences—like a new book or movie, or traveling somewhere they’ve never been before. They are not wrong to do so: People generally enjoy things less the more accustomed to them they become. As O’Brien writes, “People may choose novelty not because they expect exceptionally positive reactions to the new option, but because they expect exceptionally dull reactions to the old option.” And sometimes, that expected dullness might be exaggerated.
Knowing that expectations can sometimes deviate from reality in this way could help inform the decisions people make about how they spend their leisure time. “I think the biggest application of the finding is for people to spend more time considering why they prefer a novel option over a repeat option,” O’Brien wrote to me in an email. Doing so could save them time and might make them just as happy. “Before getting caught in a one-hour Google rabbit hole for ‘best tacos near me,’ it might help to consider the possible value of simply returning to the great taco place from yesterday (and trying new things [on the menu]),” he added.