Candy bar or healthy snack? Free choice not as free as we think

October 13, 2009

If you think choosing between a candy bar and healthy snack is totally a matter of free will, think again. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that the choices we make to indulge ourselves or exercise self-control depend on how the choices are presented.

Author Juliano Laran (University of Miami) tested subjects to determine how certain words and concepts affected consumers' decisions for self-control or indulgence. He found that consumer choices were affected by the actions most recently suggested to them by certain key words.

The tests involved a word-scramble containing words that suggested either indulgence ("weight") or self-control ("delicious"). "Participants who unscrambled sentences associated with self-control were more likely to choose a healthy snack (a granola bar) to be consumed right now, but an indulgent snack (a chocolate bar) to be consumed in the future," writes Laran. Participants who unscrambled sentences associated with indulgence were more likely to choose an indulgent snack to be consumed right now but a to be consumed in the future."

A second study examined the same phenomenon, but it involved information associated with saving versus . Again, when information about saving money was active (participants had been exposed to words associated with saving money), participants said that they imagined themselves trying to save money while in the present, but spending a lot of money while shopping in the future. When words about spending were suggested, the study showed the opposite result.

"The type of information (self-control or indulgence) that is currently active may influence a decision for the future," write Laran. "When information about self-control (indulgence) is currently active, decisions for the present will be virtuous (indulgent), while decisions for the future will be indulgent (virtuous). This result arises from people's need to balance behaviors performed in the present with behaviors that will be performed in the future."

Both marketers and can benefit from being aware of these effects, Laran concludes.

More information: Juliano Laran. "Choosing Your Future: Temporal Distance and the Balance Between Self-Control and Indulgence." : April 2010 (published online September 24, 2009).

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Seize the day! New research helps tightwads 'live a little'

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Model shows how surge in wealth inequality may be reversed

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—For many Americans, the single biggest problem facing the country is the growing wealth inequality. Based on income tax data, wealth inequality in the US has steadily increased since the mid-1980s, with the top ...

Earliest evidence of reproduction in a complex organism

August 3, 2015

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have found the earliest example of reproduction in a complex organism. Their new study has found that some organisms known as rangeomorphs, which lived 565 million years ago, ...

French teen finds 560,000 year-old tooth (Update)

July 28, 2015

A 16-year-old French volunteer archaeologist has found an adult tooth dating back around 560,000 years in southwestern France, in what researchers hailed as a "major discovery" Tuesday.

0 comments

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.