To help us survive, humans have evolved to quickly identify changes in our environment, aiding us in avoiding danger and capitalising on new tools and resources. As a result, we’re hardwired to detect change, with new things capturing our attention and often increasing their perceived appeal.

What is novelty and how long does it last?

Novelty is the quality of being new, original, or unusual. It can refer to both tangible objects, such as gadgets, clothes, or cars, and intangible ideas, such as theories, concepts, or trends. Novelty can be appealing because it can stimulate our senses, curiosity, creativity, and learning. However, novelty can also wear off quickly for a variety of reasons – it may not meet our expectations, needs, or preferences, or it could become outdated, irrelevant, or too common, or we can simply become complacent with it due to increased familiarity and start to take it for granted.

In this blog post we’ll cover:

  1. Types of novelty
  2. Factors that influence the appeal and duration of novelty
  3. Novelty in the healthcare space

Nature of novelty, its impact and ramifications

Novelty can be classified into different types, depending on its nature and impact.

When we think of “novelty” we should consider instances such as newly designed objects, e.g., air fryers, activity trackers, the first passenger flight, but also novel ideas, e.g., the official birth of behavioural science, Sir Issac Newton’s laws of motion. Moreover, one should consider the potential impact and reach of novelty: is it a novel creation or idea that impacts a limited number of people, or is it a wide-reaching invention such as AI?

Here are some examples of novelty types and their ramifications:

  • Functional novelty: This type of novelty offers a new way of performing a familiar task, such as cooking, exercising, or communicating. Functional novelty can be appealing because it promises to improve our efficiency, convenience, or quality of life.

However, functional novelty can also wear off quickly if the new function does not meet our expectations or needs, or if it becomes obsolete due to technological advancements or changing preferences.

For example, air fryers are an example of functional novelty that allow us to cook food with less oil and fat, but they might lose their appeal if they do not produce the desired results, if they are hard to operate for some reason, or if they are replaced by newer or better appliances.

  • Informational novelty: This type of novelty exposes us to new or surprising information that challenges our existing beliefs or assumptions. Informational novelty can be appealing because it stimulates our curiosity and learning, but it can also fade away quickly if the information becomes outdated, irrelevant, or too complex to understand or apply.

 For example, the book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein is an example of informational novelty that introduced the concept of behavioural economics and how it can be used to influence people’s decisions and behaviours. However, the popularity of the book and the term “behavioural science” fluctuated over time, as shown by the graph below, which shows the number of Google searches for the term “behavioural science” from 2004 to 2021.

We can see that the term had a spike in 2008, when the book was published, and then ebbed and flowed until 2020, when it had another surge due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This graph illustrates how informational novelty can depend on the relevance and timeliness of the information. The availability and accessibility of the sources are also key factors when it comes to perpetuating informational novelty.

  • Aesthetic novelty: This type of novelty appeals to our senses, emotions, or tastes, such as music, art, or fashion. Aesthetic novelty can be appealing because it can evoke positive feelings, such as joy, excitement, or admiration. However, aesthetic novelty can also wear off quickly if it does not match our personal preferences, or if it becomes too common or familiar.

 For example, the first passenger flight was an example of aesthetic novelty that amazed and thrilled people who witnessed or experienced it, but it soon became a normal and mundane mode of transportation for many people.

Factors Influencing the Appeal and Duration of Novelty

The appeal and duration of novelty depend on both individual and contextual factors.

Individual factors include our personality, preferences, goals, and motivations, which affect how open and receptive we are to novelty, and how much value we derive from it.

Contextual factors include the social, cultural, and environmental influences that shape our expectations, perceptions, and behaviours regarding novelty. For instance, novelty can be more or less attractive depending on the level of novelty-seeking or novelty-avoiding in our society or specific community, the availability and accessibility of novel products or services, and the degree of competition or cooperation among the providers or users of novelty.

  • A key factor influencing the duration of the novelty effect is readiness for novelty: This factor refers to how prepared and willing we are to accept and adopt novelty. Readiness for novelty can depend on our prior knowledge, experience, and skills, as well as our psychological state, such as mood, confidence, or curiosity.

For example, if we are familiar with a certain domain or topic, we might be more ready to embrace novelty in that area, because we have the background and the interest to understand and appreciate it. On the other hand, if we are unfamiliar or uninterested in a certain domain or topic, we might be less ready to embrace novelty in that area, because we lack the context and the motivation to learn and apply it.

  • Social norms: This factor refers to the unwritten rules and expectations that govern our behaviour and interactions in a given society or group. Social norms can affect how we perceive and respond to novelty, as well as how we influence and are influenced by others regarding novelty.

For example, if we live in a society or belong to a group or organisation that values and rewards novelty-seeking, we might be more inclined to seek out and adopt novelty, because we want to fit in, impress, or inspire others. On the other hand, if we live in a society or belong to a group that values and rewards novelty-avoiding, preferring consistency and familiarity we might be more inclined to avoid or resist novelty, because we want to conform, protect, or preserve our status quo.

  • Personal utility is another important factor, and it refers to the value that novelty provides to us, in terms of satisfying our needs, desires, or goals.

To give a personal example and keeping in with the air fryer theme, a couple of years ago Alex purchased an air fryer. Around the same time, she also purchased a couple of dumbbells. The air fryer still feels new, ‘novel’, after all this time, as Alex gets a lot of value out of it (its personal utility to her is high) and it is also something that she hadn’t grown up using one, so it’s still feels like a new addition to her kitchen, unlike the dumbbells….

  • Scale of investment: This factor refers to the amount of time, money, or effort that we invest in acquiring, using, or maintaining novelty. Scale of investment can affect how we perceive and appreciate novelty, as well as how we cope with the potential loss or replacement of novelty.

For example, if we invest a lot in novelty, we might value it more, because we have a higher stake and commitment in it. However, we might also suffer more, if the novelty fails, becomes obsolete, or is surpassed by something better. On the other hand, if we invest little in novelty, we might value it less, because we have a lower stake and commitment in it. This said, we might also adapt more easily, if the novelty changes, improves, or is replaced by something else.

  • Relativity: This factor refers to how we compare and contrast novelty with other alternatives, such as the existing, the familiar, or the common. Relativity can affect how we judge and evaluate novelty, as well as how we respond to the feedback and opinions of others regarding novelty.

For example, if we consider novelty to be better, more attractive, or more beneficial than the alternatives, we might prefer and pursue novelty, because we want to optimise our outcomes and experiences. However, if we consider novelty to be worse, less attractive, or less beneficial than the alternatives, we might reject and avoid novelty, because we want to minimise our risks and losses.

 Novelty at the doctor’s office
Sometimes it can be difficult to incorporate novel practices into the healthcare space, particularly in the public sector, meaning that hospitals and healthcare professionals’ (HCP) offices/surgeries may lag behind the latest, cutting-edge knowledge. It can take a while for that knowledge to filter down and disseminate from the source, and then to be trusted and ultimately incorporated into policies. Anecdotally, we (and you too, may) have seen that private practices are often able to incorporate novel approaches faster and more efficiently than public services- presumably, because there is a level of logistical friction (practical hassle) involved, as well as costs. These are elements which can act as “drag” (think of a paper plane going through air) and slow the adoption of novel approaches.

But what if a practice actually has the funds to incorporate novel approaches, or those approaches are not too costly?

How to Communicate About Novelty

Novelty is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that can have different effects on different people, depending on various factors. Understanding these factors can help us design and deliver more engaging and effective products and services, tailoring them to the desired audience, as well as manage our own expectations and behaviours regarding novelty. Essentially, by balancing novelty and familiarity, we can create and enjoy optimal experiences that enrich our lives and enhance our well-being.

By Alexandra Petrache and Rhiannon Connolly


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