Many of us experience a tinge of guilt as we delight in feelings
of pleasure from our favorite indulgences, like splurging on
an expensive handbag or having another drink. We make resolutions:
this will be the last time, positively. Yet, in spite of documented
ambivalence towards temptation and well-meaning vows not to
succumb again, consumers often end up repeating the same or
similar choices. A new study by Suresh Ramanathan (University
of Chicago) and Patti Williams (Wharton School of Business,
University of Pennsylvania) examines repeated impulsive behavior
despite the presence of guilt important research underscored
by the increasing prevalence of binge drinking, obesity, and
credit card debt.
While most published research has examined the emotional consequences
of self-control lapses, Ramanathan and Williams expand the literature
by studying the affective outcomes of indulgent consumption
as it unfolds over time. In two studies, they examine the immediate
and delayed emotional consequences of engaging in indulgent
consumption among both prudent and impulsive consumers.
Significantly, the researchers find that both impulsive and
prudent consumers experience a mixture of positive and negative
emotions immediately after consuming a food indulgence. However,
the components of the emotional ambivalence are different across
the two groups.
While the impulsive consumers do feel negative emotions
such as stress, they do not feel much guilt or regret,
the authors reveal.
Further, the time course of these emotions is different across
the two types of consumers. Impulsive people continue to feel
residual effects of their positive emotions over time, but experience
a sharp decline in their negative emotions. Prudent people continue
to experience strong negative and self-conscious emotions, but
report significantly lower levels of positive emotions.
Thus, over time, impulsive consumers are left only with
their positive feelings about indulging, while prudent consumers
are left only with their negative feelings about indulging.
This, in turn, affects propensity to repeat an act of indulgence,
the authors explain.
Therefore, impulsive consumers are much more likely to engage
in a second indulgent act over time than are prudent consumers.
The authors also find differences in the extent to which people
take actions to undo their emotional ambivalence. After indulging
once, prudent consumers are more likely than impulsive consumers
to seize an opportunity to make a utilitarian choice.
Impulsive people may be more comfortable with duality
or conflict, or may be more resigned to the experience of such
conflict, the authors conclude. Prudent people,
on the other hand, seem to be more eager to seize the chance
to launder their negative emotions.