Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is "vicarious goal fulfillment" to blame for that order of French fries?

Here's a strange one.

We've talked about health halos before - if you think a food's healthy you're more likely to consume larger portions of it. Things like "low-fat" front-of-package claims and even restaurants (Subway) have been shown to have health halos that lead to less healthy consumption patterns.

This one has to be the strangest health halo yet. This one states that if there's salad on the menu you'll be more likely to order the fries.

In this study, when menu choices included healthier ones individuals were more likely to choose less healthy options than when the exact same menu was provided minus the healthy options. When salads were on the menu, fries were eaten more frequently, bacon-cheeseburgers when veggie burgers were available, chocolate covered Oreos when 100 calorie packs of Oreos were present etc. In fact there was not one menu in this study with which this phenomenon was not found to occur.

The researchers called the phenomenon, "vicarious goal fulfillment" whereby the mere ability of being able to meet their goal of eating healthier actually caused individuals to feel that they had already met their goal and therefore could order the less healthy, more indulgent option.

Wow - brains are crazy places.

Wilcox, K., Vallen, B., Block, L., & Fitzsimons, G. (2009). Vicarious Goal Fulfillment: When the Mere Presence of a Healthy Option Leads to an Ironically Indulgent Decision Journal of Consumer Research DOI: 10.1086/599219

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  1. Brains are the CRAZIEST place. Good to know I am not alone!

  2. Or perhaps when no healthy choices are available then consumers are more focussed on the idea that it's 'junk food' and worry about the calories, but having a more balanced menu takes away that impression and leaves them freer to order what they actually want. I'm not paying for the article to see if the authors considered that though!

  3. Why yes, I know about the "vicarious goal fulfillment" phenomenon, it's good to put a name to it! When I write out a carefully considered and detailed list of all the various tasks I have to do, I feel the virtuous glow of accomplishment. No need to actually do the tasks, by merely writing the list I have met my goal. I'm good at that!

  4. Anonymous12:20 pm

    I have an unhealthy relationship with food. Notice I say relationship? Friend, perhaps best friend at times.
    From my personal point of view putting the healthy items on the menu would cause me to want to "treat myself" just this once to something decadent..... since most of the time I make healthy choices. (not true, but spin doctoring in my head)