Holidays are a challenging period to maintain discipline and adhere to dietary, budgetary and personal goals.
Apparently the ability to resist the temptation depends on how a big a threat you perceive it to be, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
University of Texas researchers studied a variety of techniques that enable us to resist food and other enticements.
“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, a process we call counteractive construal,” say authors Ying Zhang, Szu-Chi Huang and Susan M. Broniarczyk.
For example, in one study, female participants were asked to estimate the calories in a cookie. Half the participants were told that they have the option of receiving the cookie as a complimentary gift for participation and half were not.
The results showed that consumers with a strong dieting goal construed the cookie as having more calories and being more damaging to the attainment of their long-term goal of losing weight.
Another study demonstrated that counteractive construal is helpful in situations that involve a self-control conflict.
In a study of 93 college students, the researchers found that students with a high grade-point average were more likely than other participants to estimate an upcoming party to last longer and take more time away from studying. Those students consequently reported lower intent to attend the party, but only when their academic goal was made salient.
The authors also found that environmental stimuli such as posters could subtly activate people’s long-term diet goals and lead them to engage in counteractive construal.
In one study, female participants entered a room that either had posters depicting fit models or nature scenery.
“Participants who were exposed to posters depicting fit models (goal-priming stimuli) were more likely to exaggerate the calories in a tempting drink that they expected to consume later on, and consequently consumed less when offered the drink,” the authors write.