Consumer & Behavioral Neuroscience

Chocolate tastes better when you’re dieting

Chocolate tastes better when you’re dieting

I came across this article after it was posted on LinkedIn in a consumer research group forum.

That makes for a great story! Food reward is a very strong motivator.  And so maybe guilt strengthens that power of the food reward. The study, from Northwestern’s Kellog School of Management can be found at this link:

Chocolate Study Link

Basically, we already knew that emotion affects experience.  And the general idea has been that negative emotion will decrease the effects of positive stimuli.  Example: If a skunk were to spray nearby a delicious picnic, this may dampen the enjoyment of the food.

The authors, however, suggested that maybe, just maybe, it can be the other way around. In the case of guilt (a negative emotion), pleasure can be increased with the increase of guilt. And that the activation of guilt automatically triggers cognitions of pleasure.

This study consisted of 6 experiments:

Experiment 1 – Participants were primed with guilty or neutral priming sentences (scrambled that they had to unscramble) and then rate chocolate candies.  Those given the guilty prime sentences rated the chocolate higher.

Experiment 2 – Participants rated the taste of chocolate bars after reading either a healthy eating magazine or magazines that were completely unrelated to food. Those who read the healthy eating magazine rated the chocolate as tasting better.

Experiment 3 – 100 undergrads were put in 3 groups and asked to describe feeling guilty, disgusted and some random time. They were then given a chocolate truffle to eat. Those asked to describe guilty moments in their lives rated the chocolate as more tasty than did either of the other 2 groups.

Experiment 4 – Similar to Experiment 1, subjects were given scrambled priming sentences (guilty or neutral). But this time subjects were then tested on their ability to complete word fragements ( ex: E N _ _ _ = ENJOY or ENTER). Exposure to the guilty-priming sentences increased the mental accessibility of pleasure words… choosing to use ENJOY instead of ENTER.

Experiment 5 – Women were made to feel guilty and then shown dating profiles of attractive men. Women who were made to feel guilty before viewing the men, rated seeing the men as much more pleasing than those who were not guilty.

Experiment 6 – First the subjects were given the priming sentences as in the early experiments. Then subjects were shown either hedonic pleasing videos or neutral utilitarian videos and then asked how much they enjoyed the video.

The conclusion?

People are seeking a pleasurable reward after they consumer something.  And emotion can modulate that experience.  Guilt in particular can increase the pleasure derived from a positive experience. This may present an interesting spot for marketing to consider, says the study.

But doesn’t it already? We already used words and phrases that connote this:



Guilty Pleasure

Sinfully Delicious

Those words/phrases describe something that is beyond just good. And so maybe it’s no surprise that there is that link or that synergy.

But I do wonder if it works the opposite way as well.  Can guilt increase the potency of a negative experience?  If they were to have given those guilty-priming sentences with a negative experience, say eating something disgusting… would that disgust be greater?

A while back I wrote a blog on how much more satisfying sad and complicated music is to us, more so that strictly happy music. And I wonder about that connection. Could it be that we like the complicated relationship of guilt and pleasure?

It seems that this could be worthwhile to pursue further.  And maybe even a target for weight loss products and programs to consider.

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This entry was posted on December 7, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , .




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