Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Novemsky, Nathan


This dissertation is about how the ways people make comparisons determine when, how intensely, and for how long they experience hedonic contrast. The first two essays show that people tend to focus more on comparisons in the negative domain than in the positive domain, such that (a) they tend to make comparisons when evaluating inherently negative outcomes, but not when evaluating inherently positive outcomes, causing pain to be more contrast-dependent than pleasure, and (b) if items are not inherently positive or negative, but rather, are made to appear positive or negative by virtue of how they compare with one another, people make the comparison quantitatively when evaluating the worse item but qualitatively when evaluating the better item, and therefore the size of the difference between items affects negative contrast but not positive contrast. The third essay focuses on how contrast affects experiences over time. It shows that when people go through an experience that has a negative feature, expecting this feature to change – either for better or for worse – in a subsequent experience leads people to sustain attention on this feature, inhibiting adaptation to it. Therefore, contrast can affect not only the intensity, but also the persistence, of hedonic experiences.