In the study, researcher Juliano Laran from the University of Miami tested subjects to determine how certain words and concepts affected consumers' decisions for self-control or indulgence.
He found that consumer choices were affected by the actions most recently suggested to them by certain key words.
The tests involved a word-scramble containing words that suggested either indulgence (weight) or self-control (delicious).
"Participants who unscrambled sentences associated with self-control were more likely to choose a healthy snack (a granola bar) to be consumed right now, but an indulgent snack (a chocolate bar) to be consumed in the future," Laran said.
"Participants who unscrambled sentences associated with indulgence were more likely to choose an indulgent snack to be consumed right now but a healthy snack to be consumed in the future," Laran added.
A second study examined the same phenomenon, but it involved information associated with saving versus spending money.
Again, when information about saving money was active (participants had been exposed to words associated with saving money), participants said that they imagined themselves trying to save money while shopping in the present, but spending a lot of money while shopping in the future.
When words about spending money were suggested, the study showed the opposite result.
"The type of information (self-control or indulgence) that is currently active may influence a decision for the future. When information about self-control (indulgence) is currently active, decisions for the present will be virtuous (indulgent), while decisions for the future will be indulgent (virtuous). This result arises from people's need to balance behaviors performed in the present with behaviors that will be performed in the future," Laran said.
Laran concluded that both marketers and consumers could benefit from being aware of these effects.
The study has been published in in the Journal of Consumer Research.