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

  • Milkman, Katherine L.

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.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Volume (Year): 119 (2012)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 163-176

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:119:y:2012:i:2:p:163-176
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/obhdp

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  1. Lipshitz, Raanan & Strauss, Orna, 1997. "Coping with Uncertainty: A Naturalistic Decision-Making Analysis," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 149-163, February.
  2. Irwin, Julie R, et al, 1993. " Preference Reversals and the Measurement of Environmental Values," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 6(1), pages 5-18, January.
  3. Katherine L. Milkman & Todd Rogers & Max H. Bazerman, 2009. "Highbrow Films Gather Dust: Time-Inconsistent Preferences and Online DVD Rentals," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 55(6), pages 1047-1059, June.
  4. Bazerman, Max H. & Schroth, Holly A. & Shah, Pri Pradhan & Diekmann, Kristina A. & Tenbrunsel, Ann E., 1994. "The Inconsistent Role of Comparison Others and Procedural Justice in Reactions to Hypothetical Job Descriptions: Implications for Job Acceptance Decisions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 60(3), pages 326-352, December.
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  7. Tiedens, Larissa Z. & Linton, Susan, 2001. "Judgment under Emotional Uncertainty: The Effects of Specific Emotions and Their Associated Certainty Appraisals on Information Processing," Research Papers 1629, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  8. Mead, N.L. & Baumeister, R.F. & Gino, F. & Schweitzer, M.E. & Ariely, D., 2009. "Too tired to tell the truth : Self-control resource depletion and dishonesty," Other publications TiSEM c60167a3-c3aa-4b83-9192-1, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  9. Oster Sharon M. & Scott Morton Fiona M., 2005. "Behavioral Biases Meet the Market: The Case of Magazine Subscription Prices," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-32, March.
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