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Dr. Peter Caprariello's Research



Through my involvement in the material-experiential buying research, I became interested in a category of experiences, called extraordinary experiences, which are defined as those that occur outside the realm of routine, ordinary life, and which have a long history in consumer research (e.g., Price & Arnould, 1993) and in anthropology (e.g., Abrahams, 1986; Turner & Turner, 1978). On average, extraordinary experiences tend to be beneficial for consumer happiness (e.g., Bhattacharjee & Mogilner, 2014).

A recent paper by Cooney, Gilbert, and Wilson (2014) added nuance to the literature. They found that extraordinary experiences make people happier than ordinary experiences during consumption and shortly after. But extraordinary experiences are costly in the long-term because fewer people can relate to you. Thus, when it comes time to talk about your extraordinary experiences, you tend to leave the conversation feeling isolated and unhappy. Ordinary experiences, on the other hand, because they are so common, are easy to talk to others about and so you leave these conversations feeling accepted and happy.

With Ryan Howell of San Francisco State University, I developed a novel model of extraordinary experiences and support processes. The crux of this model is that extraordinary experiences are often shared with others but that the outcomes of these conversations – in terms of whether the listener is supportive or not, and whether the speaker feels enmeshed or ostracized – depend on how the speaker and listener respond to each other. Certain psychological obstacles are likely to emerge depending on the nature of the experience – for example, successful achievements might lead the speaker to come across as bragging, which could lead to diminished interest and support from the listener (Scopelliti, Lowenstein, & Vosgerau, 2015). The model delineates a number of different pathways by which extraordinary experiences, when shared with others, can backfire or can lead to positive, supportive social interactions, depending on how speakers and listeners perceive each other in a dyadic setting.

We designed a series of studies to provide converging evidence for the full model, and submitted a proposal to gain funding to run these studies to the Pathways for Character initiative, which was a funding mechanism supported by the John Templeton Foundation. We submitted our Letter of Intent on April 15 th , 2017, and we were invited to submit a Full Proposal, which we submitted on August 1, 2017. Unfortunately, our proposal was not funded. But the work we did to develop the model was substantial, and we will continue our endeavors while we seek future funding.



One type of experience that may have undetected value is solitary experiences. James Masciale and I have collaborated to test whether the motivational context of solitary experiences can confer unique benefits when individuals choose to do things alone compared to when solitary activities are forced or unwanted. Thus far this research has shown that autonomously chosen solitary experiences seem not to have a negative psychological impact and, in fact, had a very positive one, across multiple domains of well-being, including feelings of authenticity, self-efficacy, and happiness. In fact, compared to social experiences, solitary experiences that were sought for their own sake, rather than being consumed for more controlled reasons, conferred eudaemonic benefits at levels close to, or exceeding, those provided by social experiences.

This research has been presented at multiple conferences, including the Self-Determination Theory conference of 2013, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conferences of 2014 and 2015. These results are currently in preparation to be submitted for publication no later than Spring 2018.



Research in this area was initially conducted for my graduate dissertation. Many new studies have been conducted while at Stony Brook, as late as 2015, and thus these results are not quite submitted for publication. These studies built upon prior research showing that prosocial spending – spending money on somebody else – increases happiness relative to personal spending – spending on oneself. I argued that there are likely to be two distinct motives for spending money on others: motives to benefit the self and motives to benefit the recipient. I defined self-centered motives as those in which the primary goal is to obtain rewards or avoid punishments for the giver. In this case, spending money on others can represent a means to that end. The recipient is the target of the monetary benefit but the giver’s focus is on self-benefit (e.g., on being liked or respected by the recipient). I defined recipient-centered motives as motives in which the primary goal is to provide rewards or avoid punishments for the recipient. Benefiting the recipient would be an end in itself (e.g., by demonstrating genuine care or concern for the recipient’s needs). The other person is the target of the monetary benefit and any benefits accrued by the self (e.g., gratitude) would merely be positive by-products.

I theorized that these motives would moderate the amount of happiness that was derived from prosocial spending. Specifically, I predicted that prosocial spending that was guided by self-centered motives would lead to less happiness than prosocial spending that was guided by recipient-centered motives. Across multiple studies, I showed that motives to benefit the self undermine happiness when spending money on others and that motives to benefit the recipient augments happiness. Thus, the happiness that is derived from spending money on other people depends on whether recipients’ interests are secondary to the interests of the self. I expect this research to be submitted for consideration to  The Journal of Consumer Psychology   by November 15 th , 2017.



My research on gift-giving started with my dichotomy of self-centered and recipient-centered reasons for spending money on other people. However, my latest research in this area goes one step further by integrating insights from research on motivated perception and asking the question, “do partners accurately detect our motives, or are they motivated to see us in the best possible light, regardless of our intentions?” In other words, this research looks at gift-giving from the perspective of the gift recipient, who may or may not be aware of the gift-giver’s intentions, depending on their own motivations.

I find that couples’ relationship satisfaction reliably predicts motivated perceptions of partners’ intentions. Specifically, and controlling for partners’  actual   motives, relationship satisfaction negatively correlates with perceived obligation motives and positively correlates with perceived thoughtfulness motives. In other words, independently of what partners are actually reporting as their motives, dissatisfied couples tend to perceive obligation motives and highly satisfied couples tend to perceive thoughtfulness. What’s more, these motivated misperceptions then influence happiness from giving. Specifically, partners who perceive thoughtful motives (independently of the partner’s actual, stated motives) tend to experience enhanced joy from giving. Partners who perceive obligation motives from their partners tend to experience diminished joy from giving. Thus, the results suggest that gift-giving motives are not of crucial importance for predicting the outcomes of gift-giving. Instead, minding the relationship in the days leading up to the holiday is likely to be more important. Satisfied relationships tend to have better gift-giving experiences, ultimately leading to better relationship experiences and outcomes, than less satisfied relationships.



Finally, I am collaborating with Marianna Savoca of the Career Center on a representative survey of Stony Brook students and how they pursue internships, jobs, and careers. This research was motivated by conversations between the College of Business faculty and the Career Center about attendance at job fairs and how attendance was particularly low for business students relative to students from other departments.

Based on my research on failure discussed above (Caprariello & Reis, 2011, “Perceived partner responsiveness minimizes defensive reactions to failure”), I suspected that the reasons reflect patterns of dysfunctional, self-defeating behavior that satisfied an immediate need to minimize perceived risk at the expense of solving the problem of finding a long-term job post-graduation. Thus, the intent of the survey is to measure patterns of risk-taking and risk-avoidance during job searching and to relate these patterns of risk-taking to students’ outcomes, as provided by internal documentation from the Career Center (e.g., ability to successfully obtain a job or internship). Ultimately, the goal will be to develop an intervention by which groups of “at-risk” students (i.e., those students who are most likely to be risk-averse) can be guided through developing more effective and less self-defeating tendencies so as to improve their chances of long-term career success. The first wave of data collection is scheduled to begin in October, 2017.


  • Partner responsiveness to one’s own self-expansion opportunities: Effects on relationship satisfaction.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Fivecoat, H. C., Tomlinson, J. M., Aron, A., & Caprariello, P. A. (in press).
  • In live interaction, does familiarity promote attraction or contempt?: A reply to Norton.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.