Many purchase and consumption decisions involve an intrapersonal struggle between consumers’ righteous, prudent side and their indulgent, pleasure-seeking side. Whereas purchasing and consuming utilitarian necessities and virtues (e.g., a practical car, a healthful food item) is considered responsible and farsighted, yielding to hedonic temptations (e.g., buying a luxurious car, eating a chocolate cake) is viewed as impulsive and wasteful. The perceived precedence of virtue and necessity over vice and luxury is at least as old as ancient Greek civilization (Plato and Aristotle argue that reason should rule appetitive and passionate elements). Similarly, consumer self-control research emphasizes the importance of exercising willpower and controlling desires. Much of this research has been premised on the notion that consumption and purchase of vices generate regret. According to this perspective, consumers are better off in the long run if they choose virtue over vice, work over leisure, and utilitarian necessities over hedonic luxuries.
Recent research challenges this approach and suggests that consumers often suffer from a reverse self-control problem—namely, excessive farsightedness and overcontrol, or “hyperopia.” Hyperopic consumers overemphasize virtue and necessity at the expense of indulgence and luxury. It has been suggested that consumers who recognize their tendency to avoid temptations and focus on doing “the right thing” precommit to indulgences to ensure that the goal of having more fun and luxury is realized. Furthermore, researchers have demonstrated that though in the short run it appears preferable to act responsibly and choose virtue over vice, over time such righteous behavior generates increasing regret. It has been argued that the passage of time attenuates regret about choosing vice and accentuates regret about choosing virtue because of the decay of indulgence guilt and the intensification of feelings of missing out on the pleasures of life.
The current research builds on the notion of hyperopia and examines whether consumers can foresee that such prudent behavior will evoke increasing regret. More important, the authors demonstrate that anticipating long-term regret can influence preference and motivate consumers to counteract righteous tendencies and behaviors. The effect of anticipatory regret on real choices and actual buying behavior is examined using different methodologies, samples, and self-control dilemmas. The studies demonstrate that whereas short-term regret impels consumers to select virtues and purchase necessities, long-term regret drives consumers to choose vices, purchase indulgent products, and spend more money when shopping.
The authors report a series of five studies that test the conceptual framework. They first present three studies that demonstrate the effect of self-control regrets on immediate preferences and choices. In these studies, choices of indulgence increase when participants judge the long-term rather than short-term regrets of others (Study 1), anticipate their own regret at the distant rather than the near future (Study 2), or reflect on their regret regarding an actual decision that they made in the distant rather than the recent past (Study 3). The authors conclude with two field experiments that examine the effects of anticipated self-control regrets on consumers’ real purchases at a shopping mall (Study 4) and during the Thanksgiving holiday (Study 5). Combined, the five studies demonstrate that when consumers consider long-term regrets, they are more likely to anticipate regrets of righteous decisions and consequently correct their prudent behavior by indulging and splurging on pleasurable products. The studies also include process measures and examine consumers’ mind-sets and feelings of guilt and missing out under narrow, broad, and spontaneous temporal perspectives. The findings are particularly important in view of the frequent use of anticipatory regret in advertising campaigns and the growing interest in the behavioral consequences of consumers’ regret.
Anat Keinan is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. She received her PhD in Marketing, with distinction, from Columbia Business School. At Harvard, she teaches the core marketing course to first-year MBA students. Professor Keinan’s research interests include consumer self-control, regret, luxury marketing, experiential marketing, fairness and ethics in marketing, the consumption of counterfeited and pirated products, and the marketing of innovations. Professor Keinan’s research on consumer behavior has been published in the leading marketing and psychology journals, and her work has been chosen by the New York Times as one of the best ideas of 2006. Her research has been mentioned by more than 100 print and electronic media outlets, including FOXNews.com, Yahoo Finance, The Chicago Tribune, and United Press International. She received her BA in Economics and Communication and her MBA (dean’s list and MAGNA cum laude) from Tel-Aviv University.
Ran Kivetz is a Professor of Business at Columbia University. He received his PhD (Business) and MA (Psychology) from Stanford University and his BA from Tel Aviv University (Economics and Psychology). Professor Kivetz’s research examines consumer and managerial decision making, the behavioral economics of incentive systems, reverse self-control (“hyperopia”), and marketing high technology. Kivetz teaches courses on marketing high technology and entrepreneurship and executive MBA programs and a PhD course on bridging decision research with marketing science. His research has won awards and has been published in the leading marketing, management, and psychology journals. He serves as an editorial board member and as a reviewer for the premier decision-making and management science journals.
J Marketing Research, Volume 45, Number 6, December 2008
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