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

Oct 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: A two generation lens: Current state policies fail to support families with young children

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Making snack food choices

Sep 11, 2008

People who are asked whether they would choose between a "good" snack and a "bad" snack might not follow their intentions when the snacks arrive. In an article in the September/October 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Ed ...

Recommended for you

Scholar tracks the changing world of gay sexuality

Sep 19, 2014

With same-sex marriage now legalized in 19 states and laws making it impossible to ban homosexuals from serving in the military, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are now enjoying more freedoms and rights than ever before.

User comments : 0