Past Temptations Linked to Successful Weight Loss

This study attempted to examine consumer behavior, with specific reference to temptations in the form of food, and see if consumers remembered how they had reacted to similar temptations in the past and whether this memory affected their present behavior. Individuals were found to be either impulsive or nonimpulsive. Results showed that nonimpulsive did not change over time. They resisted a temptation when they had done so earlier or succumbed if they had succumbed earlier; on the other hand, impulsive participants did not show any consistency in their behavior.

Nearly one-third of the residents of America are obese or overweight. Poor dietary habits and excessive indulgence in unhealthy food is a major contributor to this situation. This study was conducted to look into how people gave in to food-related temptations. In short it looked at what makes people succumb to temptation, time after time. Earlier studies have looked at responses to temptations as unrelated events, but this study views them with relation to similar past experiences. Researchers hypothesize that while some people remember their indulgences in unhealthy foods and refrain from making the same mistakes again, there are people whose behaviour was contrary.

* In the first experiment, a total of 72 undergraduate students were included. They were required to remember a recent incident where they faced a food-related temptation. They answered whether they had succumbed to or resisted the temptation. Thereafter, a set of tests and questionnaires were put to them to assess their decisions regarding temptation, impulsivity and other traits of their personality.
* Experiment two had 119 participants. They were also asked to recall a recent tempting incident related to food. Thereafter, they were surreptitiously given an opportunity to indulge in unhealthy but tasty cheese balls. Finally, they were assessed for their impulsiveness and their current moods.
* In the third experiment, 63 participants were asked to rate their liking of a set of pictures of thirty different items (some decadent food items, some healthy ones and others unrelated to food). They repeated this evaluation after recalling a previous experience of giving in to or resisting a temptation. Subsequently, they were furtively tested to see if they took a cookie from a plate of cookies.
* For the fourth experiment, 423 participants were recruited. They also recalled a past temptation and explained the reasons for their decisions. They were then faced with a choice of having cake or a fruit salad.

* Experiment one showed that while “impulsives” were fickle in their behavior of succumbing or resisting a future food-related temptation, “non-impulsives” showed behavioral consistency. Impulsives who had resisted earlier gave in to the temptation while those who had succumbed earlier were able to restrain themselves this time around.
* Experiments two and three confirmed the results from the first experiment that non-impulsives gave in to temptation if they had done so before.
* Experiment four also showed similar findings. For example impulsives who remembered having resisted before chose the cake more often while non-impulsives who remembered to have resisted before chose the salad more often.

Nest steps/Shortcomings
Researchers admit that the study was based on recall, which can often lead to inaccuracies in results. Moreover, they speculate that if the time between the earlier incident of temptation and the current experiment was lengthened the results may be different. They propose further studies with other temptations unrelated to food, to test behaviors of consumers.

Common knowledge is that impulsive individuals usually give in to temptations, especially when stressed. This study shows an unexpected side revealing that for impulsive people, “thinking back to a time when one gave in seems to strengthen resistance; hence, thinking about failure may ironically beget success” in sticking to a healthy diet and resist temptation. On the other hand, when reminded of prior restraint, they tend to let go and indulge. This discovery can lead to formulation of novel plans to encourage weight loss by focusing on past failures (succumbing) positively, looking at the reasons of past instances of resisting temptations and aiming at future successes.

For More Information:
Recalling Past Temptations – The Dynamics of Self-Control
Publication Journal: Journal of Consumer Research, August 2008
By Anirban Mukhopadhyay; Jaideep Sengupta; Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Kowloon

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.