Can a Show’s Cliffhanger Affect Food and Finance Choices?

Three Red Apples Versus Doughnuts

Three Red Apples Versus Doughnuts

Imagine contemplating what snack to eat while watching a show that happens to end on a cliffhanger. Your curiosity is piqued and you need to know what will happen on the next episode as you make your way to grab that snack. What would you choose — a chocolate bar or a granola bar? According to recent research published in the Journal of Consumer Research by professors in Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, that curiosity will lead you to choose the chocolate bar.

Taking curiosity as their focal point Chen Wang, assistant professor of marketing, and Yanliu Huang, associate professor of marketing, explored whether cognitive deprivation can lead to a desire for satiation in other unrelated domains. They found that regardless of the circumstance, the participants were not only inclined to reward themselves when they had unanswered questions, but they were also more likely to indulge.

Their findings apply not only to food, but also to finances. They found that if you are playing a game on your phone that involves solving puzzles, while waiting for a bank representative to serve you, then you will most likely choose an investment option that offers a quick, but smaller, return rather than one that offers a larger return in the long-term.

“As far as we know this is the first time that it has been shown that at a high-level, deprivation, such as curiosity, can prime people’s need for physical-level objects, like food and money,” said Huang.

Wang and Huang hope consumers can benefit from knowing that curiosity can lead to indulgent behaviors, such as unhealthy eating and hedonic spending.

“Consumers should be cautious when making any food decisions while their curiosity is piqued by whatever they are reading or watching,” said Wang. “They should also be mindful about making any financial decisions immediately after their curiosity is triggered.”

The researchers also have some tips for marketers. Those who are in industries that promote health and financial well-being, such as weight-loss programs and retirement planning services, may want to avoid applying tactics that elicit curiosity, according to the researchers. While for marketers in industries such as entertainment, luxury products and travel, the suggest that evoking consumers’ curiosity may be the way to go — since, according to the research, this may encourage consumers to indulge themselves and choose such products.

However, the researchers warn that marketers who choose to follow the “curiosity strategy” should avoid providing any rewards before consumers’ decision are made, because this could diminish the anticipated curiosity effect.

The paper, “’I Want to Know the Answer! Give Me Fish ’n’ Chips!’: The Impact of Curiosity on Indulgent Choice,” can be downloaded at this link.

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