Taking ADvantage
Fun and Games: Personal Enjoyment and Advertising
Part One of a Two Part Series


Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

This page has been accessed since 29 May 1996.

For further readings, I suggest going to the Media and Communications Studies website.

The couple lounges in their beach chairs, holding hands and gazing out over the azure waters of a tropical bay. "This is the life," she says, and he nods happily, putting away his credit card.


A group of laughing, swim-suited young men and women race along the beach, splashing through the water, playing games, and drinking can after can of soft drinks. They are enjoying the time of their lives.


Thick, juicy steaks sizzle on the grill as men and women stand around with anticipation. The steaks are served, but conversation lags and there are looks of dissatisfaction. Then the host brings out the sponsor's steaksauce, the looks change to happiness, and laughing conversation resumes. Dinner is fun and a success.


The above are examples of the fifth type of psychological appeal used in advertising: personal enjoyment.

Personal enjoyment is a person feeling happy or satisfied or elated or pleased or content, but in any case not feeling depressed or not feeling anything at all.

The means of arriving at enjoyment are as varied as people are: what makes one person happy may make another depressed. Nonetheless, there are a few actions or events that most people find enjoyable. These include eating or drinking, sex, work, leisure, and play.

Personal enjoyment is not a purely human trait. Most animals appear to do things for the sheer enjoyment of doing them: cats run around the room in circles, chimpanzees wrestle and play, dolphins race and leap before ships' bows. Such actions may be done as a practice for future life: the running around to build muscle and coordination, the wrestling and play as preparation for future status battles, the racing and leaping for predation or escape. These are, however, speculations. It could be that there is no practical or biologically beneficial reason for such behaviors -- they just seem to be for fun.

Humans want to have as much fun as cats, chimps or dolphins. However, as is usually the case, personal enjoyment for humans is not only biological, but societal as well. That is, humans gain enjoyment not only from biologically dictated behavior, such as courtship and eating, but from social necessities and interactions.

Many of the things that people do are actually biological necessities. For example, eating is necessary to stay alive; courtship is necessary to find a sexual partner; sex is necessary to pass on genes; the gathering of resources is necessary to ensure or enhance personal and offspring survival.

That these things are necessary does not automatically mean they are enjoyable. And even if something is enjoyable does not mean it enhances self-preservation, opportunities for sex or greed, or boosts self-esteem. In fact, there seems to be little biological necessity for personal enjoyment.

However, people do find many of the aspects of being alive enjoyable. There seems to be something inherently enjoyable in doing the actions dictated by biological necessities. For instance, people on liquid diets often comment, when they go back to solid foods, how pleasant it is to chew again. Certainly most people find sex pleasurable, and many people like their jobs.


Personal enjoyment often comes from a stimulation of the senses that is pleasing. Biologically, this is reasonable. It is through the senses that an organism learns about and explores its environment. Any information it can get enhances its chances for survival, reproduction, or acquiring resources.

But is stimulating the senses enjoyable? It would, of course, depend on two things: what enjoyable means, and what the stimulation is. Enjoyable, in terms of sensual stimulation, would be a sensation that is pleasant rather than unpleasant, that the organism would rather repeat than avoid.

As for the stimulation, if it is unpleasant it wouldn't be enjoyable. Organisms tend to avoid that which is irritating, since irritation is usually a sign that something is wrong. If stimulating the senses is irritating, the organism would avoid doing it.

However, there are stimulations that the organism would find pleasing: those that are positive rather than negative in feeling. For example, hunger pangs are negative sensations, but satiation is positive; thirst is negative, drink is positive; pain is negative, relief is positive. Although the negative sensations are necessary to tell the organism that there is some kind of danger or problem, the positive sensations tell it that the danger or problem is resolved. Resolving a problem is pleasant.

The senses are sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. A negative stimulation of any of these is unpleasant. Lights that are too bright are negative for sight; sounds that are too loud are negative for hearing; bad smells, pain, and repellent flavors are negative for smell, touch, and taste. However, the absence or opposite of the above can be enjoyable.

It may be impossible ever to discover whether animals enjoy certain sights or sounds, smells or tastes. They may stare fixedly, or make sounds for hours, sniff at objects or other animals, or lick something. However, we can't determine whether they are doing it for pleasure or for information, since they can't clearly express (at least, to us) which they are experiencing. Peacocks display beautiful plumage, but does the peahen take pleasure from seeing it, or merely chose a mate based on the display? Howler monkeys start howling early in the morning and continue all day. Is it because they enjoy "singing", or because they are proclaiming territorial claims? Many animals, such as hyenas and elephants, sniff at each other -- is it for fun, or to discover their band affiliation or sexual readiness? Do animals enjoy the flavors of their food, or merely "stoke the furnace"? There is no definitive way to tell.

There is, though, the stimulation of one sense that does appear, to humans, to be pleasurable to the animals that do it -- touching. This is especially apparent among primates when they participate in grooming behavior.

Grooming behavior is animals examining each other's fur and skin, looking for parasites, salt crystals and dirt. There is obviously a survival benefit from grooming, since it helps keep the animal clean and free from parasites. However, if the behavior was purely utilitarian, once completed there would be no need to continue. Nonetheless, the animals solicit and participate in grooming for long periods of time. Clearly they find something in it beyond mere utility -- they enjoy it.

The enjoyment comes from two aspects of touching: the sensual pleasure of stimulating the nerves in the skin, and the connection between each other they get from touching. In the first case, animals find pleasure in scratching, stroking, gently pulling the hair. Cats will climb in a person's lap to be stroked; dogs will use their noses to chuck a person's hand to the top of their heads for petting; a chimpanzee will approach another one and present rher back for grooming and scratching. If they didn't find pleasure in this, they wouldn't bother.

The second aspect, connection, is an outgrowth of the pleasure derived from touching. From the moment of birth, infants seek and enjoy the touch of others, particularly their mothers. These touches make them feel close and connected to the other person, the greater the amount of touch the closer the feeling.

Hugging and snuggling are very close touches. They involve most of the body and provide mutual and simultaneous stimulation of skin nerves. Grooming behaviors may be reciprocated but are rarely simultaneous. We often see infants snuggling against their mothers, giving them both pleasure.

The same applies with adults, as they hug or snuggle together. There may also be a sexual element to touch. For example, a male octopus will stroke the female to make her receptive, and whales will rub their bodies against each other as a prelude to sex. Such touching is obviously enjoyable, and can be sexually arousing.

Thus, although there is little way to prove that stimulating the other senses are enjoyable to most animals, touch undoubtedly is.


One thing that is apparent about enjoyment is the idea of variety. People can live by eating a vitamin-laced protein and carbohydrate mush (this is called dieting). That it will keep you nourished doesn't mean that you would look forward to it three times a day. Even your favorite food, be it cheeseburgers, salads or pizza, will pall after a few straight meals of it.

One of the major complaints about many jobs is that they are boring. This is particularly true in jobs that consist of constant repetitious actions or processes, such as those on assembly lines or entailing office paperwork. On the other hand, jobs that have a variety of things to do and think about are fun. A personal anecdote may illustrate this point: when I started work as a printer I had one job to do all day long -- run a press. This soon became boring. However, my employer wanted me to learn how to do everything in the shop: presswork, darkroom work, folding, collating, cutting, binding, typesetting, padding, stripping, whatever. Soon I could do anything on a job, from taking the customer's order through delivering the finished product. From that time on, I had fun because I never lacked something to do, and if one job started to become tedious, I could switch to something else. Of course, I was fortunate in my boss -- he didn't care when I did what, as long as I finished the jobs on time . (Actually, I enjoyed my work so much I often finished things early.)

Magazines, talk shows, and sex and marriage manuals tout variety as the way to keep a sexual relationship alive and exciting. It may be through changing positions, locations, clothing, or even partners, but novelty is recommended to transform what someone may feel has become a duty to their partner into a pleasure again.

When variety is lacking, so, apparently, is enjoyment. Koalas and pandas, which live only on eucalyptus leaves or bamboo (respectively), don't seem to get much thrill out of eating. They look like they're simply stoking a furnace, if they pay any attention to their food at all beyond locating the next leaf or shoot. However, when Figan (one of the chimpanzees Jane Goodall observed in the wild for more than twenty years) was given bananas for the first time, his excited hooting brought the band racing. (1)

Something zookeepers discovered years ago was that, when they kept animals penned with nothing to break the monotony, the animals became lethargic, ill-tempered, and even self-destructive. When they provided the animals with stimulating environments, ones with many different things to do, they seemed to enjoy themselves more (at least, as much as anything can enjoy itself in the necessarily limiting confines of the average zoo). They were much more active, good tempered, and playful.

There seems to be a biological necessity for variety for two reasons. First, it allows the senses to continue functioning. Second, it increases an organism's chances at survival and reproduction.

Interestingly, if the senses don't receive a variety of inputs, or if the inputs are too constant over too long a time, they stop functioning. Experiments have shown that the eyes must constantly move and explore the features of what they are looking at, or they stop seeing it. Apparently, the retinal nerves must be continually refired for the brain to see. However, for the nerves to fire they must see something different from the last time they fired. For example, spiders' eyes are fixed, and therefore cannot see something if it isn't moving, the movement creating changes in its features that make it visible. This also is true of frogs.

The same applies to the other senses: without variety they stop functioning properly. It is possible for non-painful sounds to become so prevalent they become an unnoticed background; to become inured to odious smells to the point of not knowing they're there; to be subject to constant touches and not be aware of it. It requires a change for something to become noticeable. For example, many businesses have music, either radio or taped, playing during business. After a few minutes, nobody notices there is music playing -- it fades into the background and is not consciously perceived. However, if there is a change, such as the alert signal of an emergency broadcast system, there is an instant awareness that there is sound. And how many people are aware of the touch of their clothing, or even the pain that should come with scraping the skin every day with sharp knives (better known as shaving)? Only when sensations call attention to themselves, such as too-tight shoes or nicking the skin, do they impinge on consciousness.

Again, there is a biologically sound reason for the senses to stop noticing that which is constant. If an organism had to respond constantly to what it sensed, it would soon exhaust itself. Therefore that which is constant, or has become constant, is ignored. Only when there is a change in circumstance, thus drawing attention to itself, does an organism notice and respond to that change.


The second reason for variety is that it increases an organism's chances for survival and reproduction. This is because variety in not only its senses but its environment improves its ability to cope with that environment.

Experiments conducted with rats placed them in two environments. One was totally bereft of stimulation, a simple box with nesting material, unchanging food, and water. The other was filled with things for the rats to do: tunnels, mazes, ramps, ladders, a variety of foods and nesting materials and ways to get them, all at the disposal of the rats, any time they wanted to use them. Later microscopic examination of the rats' brains showed striking differences: the stimulated rats had a high degree of complexity and neural networking, with larger neurons with more connections. The deprived rats, on the other hand, had smaller neurons with fewer connections with other neurons. These same brain characteristics have been found in experiments checking what happens in learning behaviors, such as rats learning to run a maze. Obviously the variety in the stimulating environment enabled those rats to learn more. (Greenough, 1984)

Greater brain capacity and complexity enhances an organism's living and reproductive success. It is more able to cope with the demands the environment puts on it to survive and reproduce, since it has learned to recognize more possibilities and has learned more strategies from which to choose to deal with those possibilities.(2) Because variety enhances learning, variety is biologically a good idea.

The above could well be why variety is enjoyable. If an organism gains pleasure from doing something, it is more likely to continue doing it.(3) The pleasure derived from variety could reinforce exploring for new possibilities, thus enhancing the learning process and its attendant survival improvement. After all, someone had to be the first to eat escargot and raw oysters, and drink milk from a cow.


The above applies to humans as much as other animals. Stimulation of the senses helps in experiencing the environment, and variety increases learning increases coping skills increases survival and reproduction. However, humans have the most stimulating environment of any creature on earth, because, unlike any other creature on earth, humans create their own environment, physically, emotionally, psychologically, and socially.

Humans and Stimulation of the Senses

Because humans have such a highly developed society, more than those things that naturally occur can stimulate their senses. Certainly humans enjoy those sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that nature provides: the beauty of sunsets, seascapes, a starry sky, birds and animals; the sounds of wind, surf, bird song; the smell of flowers and fresh air; the touch of a breeze or green grass. However, beyond these are the almost infinite array of sense stimulators that are the product of human ingenuity and society.

Art has stimulated the human mind and emotions through the sense of sight for thousands of years, from the cave paintings at Lascaux to Andy Warhol. By using shape, form, contour, color, and composition, art touches feelings in people ranging from laughter to tears. Art can be painting, sculpture, photography, batik, or anything else someone can devise. Wrapping islands in cloth is art if someone enjoys it.

Music stimulates the mind and emotions through the sense of hearing. It may have started with people banging rocks together and enjoying the rhythms they created. Since then music and ways of making music of incredible variety have been devised: grand opera, rock and roll, country western, baroque; sitars, zithers, trombones, samisens, hoop drums, clarinets, etc., ad nauseam. If it makes a sound, someone will play it for the sheer enjoyment of making the sound, including, of course, rher own voice.

Smells can also be stimulating. Most people enjoy the smell of perfumes and colognes, incense, air fresheners, clean laundry, clean bodies. Besides these artificial fragrances, humans consume the most incredible varieties of food and drink, all of which have their own aromas. For many people, they enjoy the smell of food as much as they enjoy eating it. Occasionally, people add ingredients to food or drink that do nothing to the taste, but merely add aroma to enhance the enjoyment.

While I'm here I'll mention taste. As mentioned above, humans have an incredible variety of foods and drink to choose from. And choose is what they do. Rarely, unless there is some medical reason to do so, will anyone always eat the same thing. Unlike any other animal, which must eat what comes to paw in its natural state, be it apple, ant or antelope, humans eat just about anything. Besides that, they mix and match foods, cook foods, combine ingredients to create new or enhance old foods. Cook books and bartender's guides are very popular. Although chimpanzees may enjoy their leaves, fruit, termites and occasional monkey, humans eat with a zest that can only be because of the joy they take in the taste of food and drink.

Finally, there is the sense of touch. Here again, as with most animals, humans enjoy the sense of touch. It may be the relief of scratching an itch or the feel of cloth such as silk, but there is a pleasure in feeling many things.

Also, as with animals, there is the feeling of connection that comes with touching other people. Mothers and fathers like holding their babies, friends enjoy hugging each other, lovers enjoy holding each other close. One aspect of human anatomy is that humans are comparatively hairless. There is no fur or hair to interfere, allowing direct contact of skin on skin, which may enhance the feeling of connection through touch. The sheer sensual pleasure of touch is apparent in sexual contact, in which the partners stroke and caress each other. Sexual foreplay is unusual in many animals, but in virtually all cases where it exists, it consists of touching. This seems to apply especially to humans, for most of whom foreplay is a major component of sexual pleasure.

Although humans do enjoy the stimulation of the senses that nature provides, it is clear that a major part of personal enjoyment for humans is because they are human, living in a human society that, at times, seems preoccupied with stimulating the senses .

Humans and Variety

As with stimulation of the senses, society provides humans with a much greater variety of everything than any other animal. As discussed above, humans have an amazing variety of sense stimulators from sights and scents to sounds and savors, and invent more all the time. It is possible to go for years and never have the same meal twice, to wander for miles through museums and never see the same artistic representation.

And yet, for all the variety that can come to the senses because of human ingenuity and society, humans want, and indeed need more because of that ingenuity and society. In particular, they need change in what they do.

Because of the necessities of human life, it can often become boring. The ability of humans to remember the past, relate it to the present, and project it into the future gives them a totally different sense of personal enjoyment than other creatures. Rather than living in an eternal present, humans think of the future and what they will need to survive and reproduce in that future, and how things happened in the past that affected the present that will become the future. Therefore they work to acquire those resources, usually money (see Greed for a discussion of money), they feel will be necessary for the future. However, working generally means doing the same things over and over again. Few people are lucky enough to get paid, or at least paid well enough (see GREED), for doing whatever they want whenever they want. This means work can be boring. The human ability to think exacerbates the problem, since a person can remember doing the same thing before, and project doing the same thing again in the future forever.

Fortunately, people have provided for this: they have invented things to do that allow a person to get away from work, if only for a short time, and do something else. These include vacations, sports, entertainment, and intellectual activities.

Vacations are breaks from the routine of daily life, be it for a weekend, weeks, or months. On vacation, people will often travel to provide variety in their perception of the world around them. For example, if they normally live in the mountains, they'll go to the beach; if in the north, they'll go south, and vice versa; if in flat country, to the mountains. In these places they will do things they don't normally do, such as shop, eat unusual (to them) foods, go dining and dancing and sightseeing. All these things are different from their normal routine, and though often very tiring physically, refresh their minds.

Sports are a form of play, often involving a contest or competition, and include everything from handball to football. People experience them in two ways: personally and vicariously. When experienced personally, an individual participates in the sport, getting a change from normal routine both physically and mentally. Most people's routine is often physically unstimulating, involving sitting or standing for hours on end. Sports are often physically challenging, involving the whole body in activity. Mentally, sports often require planning, strategy, and split-second decisions. In addition, the near infinite ways in which a game can evolve ensures it is never the same twice. This can be very stimulating to the participant.

People can also experience sports vicariously. In such cases, rather than participating, people watch others play. Although this cuts down on the amount of physical variety the viewers get, the mental stimulation is as great, if not greater. All the aspects of planning, strategy and split-second decisions are present, but the viewer can compare rher decisions to others'. For example, the viewer will often formulate a strategy for the game and compare it with what actually happens. If they match, the viewer feels pride in calling it right; if they don't, the viewer can feel superior, since rhe can think rher strategy would have worked.

Entertainment is a term that covers a wide variety of activities, including everything from grand operas to soap operas. The incredible inventiveness of the human mind is the source of entertainment. It stimulates the mind and emotions rather than the physical senses, although we usually perceive it as sight and sound.

Entertainment is usually vicarious in nature. That is, it stimulates our senses through our observing rather than doing the activities. For example, we enjoy musical performances, whether live as in concerts or recorded and played on radio, television or stereos. Other entertainment forms combine sight and sound. These include television, movies, and theatre.

Television, movies, and theatre present to an audience a compilation of events (called a plot) carried out by characters. Usually, but not necessarily, the events and characters are fictional, telling a story that shows the audience an alternative life or way of viewing the world. In addition, it stimulates the audiences' minds and emotions.

Some people do participate in entertainment in an avocational way. They work in community or university theatres or play music with their friends. They often take it up as a hobby, but if the person becomes sufficiently interested or skilled, rhe may try to find employment in theatre or music. If such occurs, entertainment turns from a diversion from regular life into that person's regular life, and they go searching for a new diversion.

Intellectual activities include reading, writing, conversation, debate, and many games, such as board and card games. Often these activities are spontaneous, as a person suddenly decides to read or write, or get together with others to talk or play games. Sometimes they're planned, like the Thursday Night Poker Game or Bridge Game. However, these routine "diversions" can be self-defeating, since they are by definition routine, not diversions. People may begin to think of them as a duty, and thus on a par with their regular occupation.

The above is only a brief discussion of some of the things people do to provide variety in their lives. However, the human mind is incredibly inventive in finding diversions from routine. If there is something that can be done (or at least attempted), someone will do it as a hobby, from fly fishing to matchbook collecting to etching the Declaration of Independence on the head of a pin. What people enjoy is as varied as people themselves.


(10 Incidentally, since Figan was a youngster, the big males took the bananas and he didn't get any. The next time, he kept his mouth shut.

(2) Of course, there is nothing that can be done when an organism is physiologically incapable of coping. The examples of the koala and the panda, above, are cases in point. No matter what they learned about food, they are incapable of digesting anything else. So, even if they learned to call Domino's, they're stuck with eucalyptus and bamboo.

(3) Sometimes it can be overdone. When experiments placed an electrode in rats' brains' sexual stimulation center that the rats could trigger, the rats would literally die of pleasure. They would sit by the lever and press it continually until they died of exhaustion.

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Copyright © 1996 Richard F. Taflinger.
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