People work harder when expecting a future challenging task

November 17, 2009

Consumers will work harder on a task if they're expecting to have to do something difficult at a later time, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

In today's fast-paced world, frequently undertake unrelated tasks in a sequence. An individual might make a grocery list, decide whether to take out a home improvement loan, search the Internet for a vacation spot, and choose a dinner location—all before preparing lunch. "It seems reasonable to expect that when consumers know that they will have to work hard on a future task, they will devote less effort to the current task, in order to save energy for the upcoming demanding task. This is not what we found," write authors Anick Bosmans, Rik Pieters (both Tilburg University, The Netherlands), and Hans Baumgartner (Pennsylvania State University).

In a series of five studies, the authors observed that the more difficult a future task was expected to be, the harder consumers worked on a current task. "For example, consumers consulted more information on a web page when they were asked to evaluate a new soft drink when they expected that they would later on have to work on a difficult and demanding task," write the authors. Other participants were better able to come up with weight loss ideas when they believed they would have to work hard on a future job.

The authors titled the the "get ready mindset." "People seem to prepare themselves mentally for upcoming tasks, but in doing so, the resources that are freed up for the future task carry over to current tasks," the authors explain. "We found consistent evidence that if the mind gets ready to perform later, it is set to go now."

The authors found that the "get ready mindset" can be attenuated and even reversed when people are better at separating tasks, either because the situation helps then to do so or because they are habitually better at keeping tasks separate.

"These results imply that the amount of effort that consumers will invest in the decision-making process (such a searching for information, generating ideas, or evaluating alternatives) is dependent upon the anticipated difficulty level of future tasks," the authors conclude.

More information: Anick Bosmans, Rik Pieters, and Hans Baumgartner. "The Get Ready Mindset: How Gearing Up for Later Impacts Effort Allocation Now." : June 2010 (published online October 20, 2009).

Source: University of Chicago (news : web)

Explore further: Consumer behavior linked with emotions

Related Stories

Consumer behavior linked with emotions

November 15, 2005

Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and at Tilburg University in the Netherlands say extraneous emotions can affect consumer purchases.

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.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 18, 2009
personally, I work hard to finish up my lesser tasks when I know something difficult is on the way. In my mind it is not logical at all to "save energy for future tasks" if I know they will be difficult. This would only apply to physical tasks. No "get ready mindset" here, they need to really rethink how they interpret these results.

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.