Look Before You Leap: New Study Examines Self-control
Reckless decision-making can lead to dire consequences when it comes to food, credit cards, or savings. What’s the key to making good decisions? A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research outlines a novel method for measuring people’s abilities to consider the consequences of their actions. It also provides hope for consumers who want to make more prudent decisions.
Authors Gergana Y. Nenkov (Boston College), J. Jeffrey Inman, and John Hulland (both University of Pittsburgh) developed a 13-question survey that rated participants on a scale called the Elaboration on Potential Outcomes (EPO) scale. The scale proved to be a reliable measure of how much participants considered the consequences of their actions. For example, when undergraduates considered whether to get LASIK surgery or whether to charge an expensive electronics item on an already heavily charged credit card, high EPO scores were associated with more consequence-related thoughts.
In a number of settings, researchers found that consumers who think about the pros and cons before making decisions reported that they were more likely to exercise and consume healthy foods. They had lower rates of alcohol abuse, procrastination, and overspending. They were also more likely to be saving money for retirement.
The good news, according to the authors, is that people who aren’t inclined to consider the consequences of their actions can be aided by simple interventions, like brochures and advertising that encourage them to think about the dangers of obesity or the benefits of saving for retirement. Scare tactics, it seems, were the most effective. “The consideration of negative consequences has a bigger impact than the consideration of positive consequences,” the authors write.
This somehow contradicts Bandura’s well proven model of behavioral change, where negative consequences correlate less then half as much as self efficacy and situation outcome expectancies when it comes to successful decision for a behavioral change. It seems like decision making is not the same in consumption or eating behaviour, and the extension of findings in marketing research to experimental psychology is obviously a slippery slope.
“The importance of studying consumers’ self-control is widely recognized, since being unable to regulate one’s emotions, impulses, actions and thoughts creates problems, not only for individual consumers, but also for society as a whole,” write the authors, hopefully not another slippery slope towards consumer manipulation…
JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. • Vol. 35 • June 2008
Considering the Future: The Conceptualization and Measurement of Elaboration on Potential Outcomes
Gergana Y. Nenkov, J. Jeffrey Inman, and John Hulland
We examine a new construct dealing with individuals’ tendency to elaborate on potential outcomes, that is, to generate and evaluate potential positive and negative consequences of their behaviors. We develop the elaboration on potential outcomes (EPO) scale and then investigate its relationships with conceptually related traits and its association with consumer behaviors such as exercise of self-control, procrastination, compulsive buying, credit card debt, retirement investing, and healthy lifestyle. Finally, we show that consumers with high EPO levels exhibit more effective self-regulation when faced with a choice and that EPO can be primed, temporarily improving self-regulation for consumers with low EPO levels.