Resisting temptation is easier for those who exaggerate threats

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Results of a new study show that resisting temptation is easier for those who exaggerate the impact of succumbing to a temptation. For instance, women were able to resist eating a cookie when they perceived the cookie contained more calories that it actually had. The tactic, known as “counteractive construal” is found to help us resist food and other temptations.

According to authors Ying Zhang, Szu-Chi Huang and Susan M. Broniarczyk, "Four experiments show that when consumers encounter temptations that conflict with their long-term goals, one self-control mechanism is to exaggerate the negativity of the temptation as a way to resist", using the counteractive construal technique.

In one experiments, women were offered a cookie as a complementary gift for trying to estimate the number of calories in the cookie. Another group of women were also asked to estimate the number of calories, but were not told they would receive the cookie. The results showed that those with strong dietary goals overestimated the number of calories, perceiving yet as more damaging.

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Using counteractive construal can also help us resist temptations that involve self-control. In a study of 93 college students, the researchers found that students with higher grade point averages were less likely to participate in an upcoming party - they tended to estimate that the party would last longer, taking more time away from their studies.

"he mental construal of temptations may be distorted when people experience a self-control conflict, and such distorted construal, rather than accurate representations, determines consumers' actual consumption, helping them resist the temptation and maintaining their long-term goal, "the authors conclude.

The study also revealed that stimulus from the environment, such as posters could also influence people to engage in counteractive construal. Women exposed two posters of fit models were more likely to exaggerate calories in a drink, compared to women exposed to nature scenery. The women consequently consumed less.

Using the counteractive construal technique could help consumers resist temptation, and lead to more self-control. Sticking with our goals, whether it be weight loss or other long term goals, is easier, as shown by the study, if we exaggerate the perceived threat of the temptation, while focusing on long-term goals.

Journal of Consumer Research
DOI: 10.1086/649912

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