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Unsure what the future will bring? You may overindulge: Uncertainty increases the appeal of wants over shoulds

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  • Milkman, Katherine L.

Abstract

This paper examines the effect of uncertainty about the future on whether individuals select want options (e.g., junk foods, lowbrow films) or instead exert self-control and select should options (e.g., healthy foods, highbrow films). Consistent with the ego-depletion literature, which suggests that self-control resembles an exhaustible muscle, coping with uncertainty about what the future may bring reduces self-control resources and increases individuals’ tendency to favor want options over should options. These results persist when real uncertainty is induced, when the salience of naturally-arising uncertainty is heightened and when individuals are able to make choices contingent upon the outcomes of uncertain events. Overall, this work suggests that reducing uncertainty in a decision maker’s environment may have important spillover effects, leading to less impulsive choices.

Suggested Citation

  • Milkman, Katherine L., 2012. "Unsure what the future will bring? You may overindulge: Uncertainty increases the appeal of wants over shoulds," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 119(2), pages 163-176.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:119:y:2012:i:2:p:163-176
    DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.07.003
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:eee:joacli:v:35:y:2015:i:c:p:47-76 is not listed on IDEAS

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