How often will you use that treadmill?

November 17, 2008

Why not buy that treadmill? You'll be exercising every day, right? A new study
in the Journal of Consumer Research examines why our expectations of our
behavior so often don't match reality.

Authors Robin J. Tanner (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Kurt A. Carlson (Duke University) uncovered a specific process that they believe contributes to unrealistic optimism. They also suggest a method to encourage consumers to think more realistically about their future actions.

"Consumers adopt the tentative hypothesis that they will behave in an ideal fashion when predicting their future behavior," the authors explain. "Unrealistic optimism by consumers may have negative consequences for both marketers and consumers. For example, if a consumer holds unrealistically optimistic beliefs about how often they will work out in the future, then they may overpay for home exercise equipment."

In a series of studies, the authors first had participants provide idealized estimates for particular behaviors (e.g., In an ideal world, how often would you exercise next week?) Then they asked participants to provide a second estimate (e.g. How often will you exercise next week?). They found that when people are first asked to predict what would happen in an ideal world, then asked how they actually expect to do, they are more realistic.

Interestingly, when researchers explicitly instructed participants not to be idealistic, the experiment backfired and led to even more unrealistic estimates.

Also, the authors found that more decisive people were less realistic.

"An important potential consequence of being overly optimistic about one's future behavior is that such optimistic beliefs may contribute to overbuying of products that see little use," the authors write.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Earth not due for a geomagnetic flip in the near future, researchers show

Related Stories

Marine airgun noise could cause turtle trauma

November 23, 2015

Scientists from the University of Exeter are warning of the risks that seismic surveys may pose to sea turtles. Widely used in marine oil and gas exploration, seismic surveys use airguns to produce sound waves that penetrate ...

Research defines 'sport shopping'

November 23, 2015

The finish line is in sight, the rush of victory just past the cash register, the trophy flung hastily into a shopping cart.

Scientists detect stellar streams around Magellanic Clouds

November 23, 2015

(—Astronomers from the University of Cambridge, U.K., have detected a number of narrow streams and diffuse debris clouds around two nearby irregular dwarf galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. The research also ...

Recommended for you


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.