In a world where immediate gratification has become the expected norm the idea of promoting a product that makes you wait seems counterintuitive. But what if this product helped us do what we’ve been unable to do by ourselves? What if the product helped us wait twenty-five seconds so we could make better health choices? This is the research being done at Rush University Medical Center where they have discovered programing vending machines to delay access to the temptatious high-calorie snacks can help people purchase something they are less drawn to — healthier snacks. Brad Appelhans, PhD, clinical psychologist, the lead investigator of the study at the Rush University Prevention Center, points out: “Research shows that humans strongly prefer immediate gratification, and this preference influences choices and behavior in daily life. — Having to wait for something makes it less desirable.”
We’ve all been on the checkout line where the impulse buying of junk food has, at the very least, tempted us. Junk food is immediately available everywhere — and perhaps most notoriously through the 1.3 million snack vending machines across the U.S. The impulse to get something right away has become a dynamic that is now part of motivation science. We want what we want when we want it. But what if we could use that drive for something other than impulse buying. Is there a way that we could manage and channel that desire?
What the researchers have done is rigged selected vending machines with something they call the DISC system (Delays to Improve Snack Choices), which separates the junk from the healthy options. This causes a 25-second delay when someone chooses a less nutritious snack before it is released. Healthy choice snacks are discharged immediately. The study was founded by the National Institute of Health. “This delay yielded a 2 percent to 5 percent increase in the proportion of total purchases from healthy snacks,” said Appelhans. “Also, we found that the delay did not harm total sales volume or vending revenue, which is important to vending machine operators.”
What makes this study so important is that we know from many studies that the practice of self-control is perhaps one of the most dynamic and powerful character trait we can cultivate. It is directly associated with higher levels of accomplishment and a major factor in those with higher well-being. The DISC system in a vending machine could be a step toward cultivating self-control.
But what shall we do until this technology hits the streets? The machines are not commercially available — yet the capacity for self control is. So, until they are you might do well to take a few seconds order to ponder your selection and simply ask yourself if it is the best choice you can make for myself? That might not take the whole 25 seconds, but it just might buy you the time you need to make a healthier choice.