The Unhealthy Road Not Taken: Licensing Indulgence by Exaggerating Counterfactual Sins

The Unhealthy Road Not Taken: Licensing Indulgence by Exaggerating Counterfactual Sins

By
Daniel A. Effron, Benoît Monin, Dale T. Miller
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. May
2013, Vol. 49, Issue 3, Pages 573–578

This research examined two hypotheses: 1) reflecting on foregone indulgences licenses people to indulge, and 2) to justify future indulgence, people will exaggerate the sinfulness of actions not taken, thereby creating the illusion of having previously foregone indulgence. In Study 1 (a longitudinal study), dieters induced to reflect on unhealthy alternatives to their prior behavior (compared to dieters in a control condition) expressed weaker intentions to pursue their weight-loss goals — and one week later, they said that they had actually done less and intended to continue doing less to pursue such goals. In Study 2, weight-conscious participants who expected to eat cookies (compared to those merely shown cookies) inflated the unhealthiness of snack foods that they previously declined to eat, and exaggerated the extent to which dieting concerns explained why they had declined these snacks. Implications for moral behavior, self-control, and motivated construal processes are discussed.