Adelle X. Yang and Christopher Hsee (2019), “Idleness versus Busyness”. Current Opinion in Psychology, Volume 26, April 2019, Pages 15-18. 

Abstract: The elapse of time disregards the human will. Yet different uses of time result in distinct perceptions of time and psychological consequences. In this article, we synthesize the growing research in psychology on the actual and perceived consumption of time, with a focus on idleness and busyness. We propose that the desire to avoid an unproductive use of time and the ceaseless pursuit of meaning in life may underlie many human activities. In particular, while it has been long presumed that people engage in activities in order to pursue goals, we posit a reverse causality: people pursue goals in order to engage in activities. 

Adelle X. Yang and Oleg Urminsky (2018), “The ‘Smile-Seeking’ Hypothesis: Anticipated Affective Reaction Motivates and Rewards Gift Choices”. Psychological Science, Volume: 29 issue: 8, page(s): 1221-1233. 

Media Coverage: The Economist, Washington Post, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Science Magazine,

                                        Mail Online, Capital Ideas, Channel News Asia, and so on


Abstract: People making decisions for others often do not choose what their recipients most want. Prior research has generally explained such preference mismatches as decision makers mispredicting recipients’ satisfaction. We proposed that a “smile-seeking” motive is a distinct cause for these mismatches in the context of gift giving. After examining common gift options for which gift givers expect a difference between the recipients’ affective reaction (e.g., a smile when receiving the gift) and overall satisfaction, we found that givers often chose to forgo satisfaction-maximizing gifts and instead favor reaction-maximizing gifts. This reaction-maximizing preference was mitigated when givers anticipated not giving the gift in person. Results from six studies suggest that anticipated affective reactions powerfully shape gift givers’ choices and giving experiences, independently of (and even in spite of) anticipated recipient satisfaction. These findings reveal a dominant yet overlooked role that the display of affective reactions plays in motivating and rewarding gift-giving behaviors and shed new light on interpersonal decision making.


Adelle X. Yang and Oleg Urminsky (2015). “The Foresight Effect: Local Optimism Motivates Consistency and Local Pessimism Motivates Variety”, Journal of Consumer Research[paper]

Abstract: Consumers sometimes prefer to repeat their past choices, while other times the same consumer prefers to try something new. We propose that a consumers’ situational future outlook, that is, local optimism or pessimism about an imminent outcome, has unique effects on consumers’ spontaneous preference for self-continuity, which lead to differences in the sequential consistency of consumer choices. Six experimental studies demonstrate this “Foresight Effect”, that local optimism increases preference for self-continuity and yields more sequential choice consistency, whereas local pessimism decreases preference for self-continuity and yields more sequential variety seeking. The “Foresight Effect” cannot be attributed to differences in mood, causal attribution, or perceived control. These findings provide new insights for the relationship between future-oriented cognition and consumer behaviors, and hold broad managerial implications for when consumers will be more apt to repeat past purchases or more open to novel product adoption.



Adelle X. Yang, Christopher K. Hsee, and Xingshan Zheng (2012). “The AB identification Survey: A Practical Method to Distinguish between Absolute and Relative Determinants of Happiness”, Journal of Happiness Studies, Volume 13, Issue 4, 729-744. [paper]

Abstract: People obtain happiness from myriad variables in daily life. Some variables exert an absolute effect on happiness, and some affect happiness only through social context. This distinction is important because investing resources on the absolute determinants of happiness can effectively increase the aggregate welfare, whereas investing resources on the relative determinants of happiness will lead to a zero-sum game and little aggregate welfare improvement over time. We introduce a simple survey method to identify the absolute-relative nature of a variable. We first validated the survey method by comparing its results with a theoretically superior but less practical experimental method. Then we administered surveys with two distinct populations, and identified a variety of absolute and relative determinants of happiness for each population. While these results shed light on the specific components of happiness for these representative populations, our method suggests a new path to improve resource allocation from the perspective of sustainable welfare improvement.


Adelle X. Yang, Christopher K. Hsee, Yi Liu and Li Zhang (2011). “The Supremacy of Singular Subjectivity”, Journal of Consumer Psychology: Special Issue on Behavioral Decision Theory, 21, 393-404[paper]

Abstract: Consumers often seek objective product information and direct product comparison in order to make better purchase decisions. However, consumption is largely subjective and non-comparative.  Results from four experimental studies suggest that, contrary to conventional wisdom, purchase decisions can often yield better consumption experiences if objective specifications are removed and direct comparison is inhibited at the time of purchase, because, purchase decisions based on subjective and non-comparative information are often more compatible with consumption. The supremacy of subjective and singular evaluation even held when consumers could not experience the target products themselves and relied on other consumers’ ratings – ratings generated from singular evaluation of products lead to purchase decisions that yielded better consumption experiences overall, compared with ratings generated from comparative evaluation. Our findings highlight a potential conflict between consumer satisfaction with purchase decisions and consumer satisfaction from consumption experience, and suggest a new way of marketing to improve long-term consumer welfare. 


Christopher K. Hsee, Adelle X. Yang, and Liangyan Wang (2010). “Idleness Aversion and the Need for Justifiable Busyness”, Psychological Science, 21, 926-930[paper]

Abstract: There are many apparent reasons why people engage in activity, such as to earn money, to become famous, or to advance science. In this paper we suggest a potentially deeper reason: People dread idleness, yet they need a reason to be busy. In two experiments, we give people choices to either engage in a task that keeps them moderately busy, or engage in nothing but idleness. We find that, 1) people are happier when they are busy; 2) without a justification, people choose to be idle, despite being able to predict that being busy will make them happier; 3) with a justification, even a specious one, people choose to be busy; and 4) when deprived of the choice and forced to be busy by random assignment, being busy still makes people happier. Our research suggests that many purported goals that people pursue may be merely justifications to keep themselves busy. Yet it is probably beneficial for one’s wellbeing to have a sound, specious, or even a forced justification to engage in busyness.