Imaginary pleasures

Psychologist Paul Bloom considers the importance of perception and imagination to our experience of pleasure in his forthcoming book, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

What matters most is not the world as it [actually physiologically impacts] our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is.

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing.

This bias towards experiences of the mind over sensory perception points to branding as a crucial component of consumer experience.  Branding shapes the narrative behind product and service offerings. If Bloom is right about what drives us,  that’s as important an aspect of the experience as the thing itself. A successful offering provides an experience on the functional and sensory levels that supports and is enhanced by the brand narrative. When these elements are incongruent, it creates a broken experience, a sort of brand dissonance.

In a recent interview, Bloom also tackled the question of whether animals have imagination. He says that although their play might seem related to imagination, they lack the ability to construct alternate futures – something crucial to our ability to innovate solutions.

Which means that my dog, although she seems highly imaginative to me when she’s trying to do something sneaky, is not likely to dream up the next iPod.

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