Indulgence in the wrong kinds of food could be triggered by the pride people feel over an achievement.
"Across four studies in the food consumptions and spending domains, we show that pride is associated with two opposing forces; it promotes a sense of achievement, which increases indulgence, and it promotes self-awareness, which facilitates self control," wrote authors Keith Wilcox (Babson College), Thomas Kramer (University of South Carolina), and Sankar Sen (Baruch College).
In their first study, the researchers asked students to write about a proud moment and then make a choice that involved self-control. Participants were able to choose between two gift certificates: a less-indulgent one that could be used for school supplies or one that could be used for entertainment.
"As we predicted, when the sense of achievement factored more heavily into the decision, students that wrote about a proud moment were more likely to select the entertainment gift certificate," the authors wrote.
In subsequent studies, the authors found that consumers who experienced pride in a sense of achievement were more likely to choose French fries over a salad with their lunch entree. The authors also found that happiness, another positive emotion, did not have the same effect on consumer choice as pride.
"Because a number of key societal issues, such as the credit and obesity crises, have been attributed to poor self-control in money and health decisions, this research has important implications for improving consumer welfare," the authors concluded.
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.