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Optimum Stimulation Level

Part 3. Consumer Behavior

  1. Jan-Benedict E. M. Steenkamp

Published Online: 15 DEC 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9781444316568.wiem03018

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing

How to Cite

Steenkamp, J.-B. E. M. 2010. Optimum Stimulation Level. Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing. 3.

Author Information

  1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2010


The notion that human behavior is sometimes instigated by the mere desire to attain a satisfactory level of stimulation has figured prominently among psychological theories investigating motivational tendencies as causes of people's actions. People tend to prefer intermediate levels of stimulation, referred to as the optimal stimulation level (OSL) in the literature. There are reliable individual differences in the amount of stimulation considered optimal by a given person. To attain a satisfactory level of stimulation, a person may engage in exploration of the environment. This suggests that OSL is a major determinant of consumer behaviors with strong exploratory elements. Indeed, research has shown that OSL is an important factor in explaining a wide variety of consumer behaviors with an exploratory component. Consumers seeking thrills, adventure, disinhibition, new experiences, fantasies, cognitive or sensory stimulation, escape from boredom, and alternation among familiar things have been identified as engaging in exploratory consumer behaviors in order to raise their level of stimulation in life. While it is generally believed that general personality traits have little explanatory value for consumer behavior, OSL is clearly an exception. Since many consumer behaviors have an exploratory component, the theoretical potential of OSL for understanding consumer behavior is substantial. Therefore, consumer researchers are encouraged to include OSL more often in their research design.


  • optimum stimulation level;
  • exploratory behavior;
  • consumer behavior;
  • sensation seeking;
  • innovativeness