Hopeful consumers choose fruit, happy consumers choose candy bars

February 20, 2012 By Lori Wilson
Hopeful consumers choose fruit, happy consumers choose candy bars
Many people fall victim to emotional eating, but it doesn't happen only when they're feeling bad, according to researchers. Credit: iStock Photos

Many people fall victim to emotional eating, but it doesn't happen only when they're feeling bad, according to researchers.

Having a good day at work, for example, can sometimes lead to a treat from the , according to Karen Winterich, assistant professor of marketing, Penn State Smeal College of Business, and Kelly Haws of Texas A&M University. At other times, lead to choosing a healthier option, such as fruit.

Previous research has shown that feeling bad can lead to bad eating choices, but Winterich and Haws show that feeling good doesn't necessarily lead to good eating choices.

The researchers looked at the complicated relationship between positive emotions and food consumption, aiming to determine when positive feelings lead to unhealthy snacking. They teased out the difference between positive feelings -- pride and happiness -- that arise from thinking about the past or present, and hope, which they describe as a more future-oriented emotion.

In four studies, Winterich and Haws found that participants focusing their positive emotion toward the future consume less unhealthy food and have lower preferences for unhealthy snacks than those whose feelings of pride or happiness are focused on the past.

In the researchers' first study, hopeful participants consumed fewer M&M candies than people who experienced happiness. In a second study, even when feeling hopeful, participants who were more focused on the past chose unhealthy snacks.

The researchers shifted the time frame of the positive emotion in the third study, questioning participants on a time when they had anticipated being rewarded for a particular achievement. The results indicate that if someone is anticipating feeling proud, they prefer fewer unhealthy snacks than someone experiencing a present sense of pride.

Finally, the authors compared future-focused positive emotions of hopefulness and anticipated pride with future-focused negative emotions of fear, and anticipated shame. They found that only the combination of positivity and a future-focused state of mind improved self-control.

Details of their study appeared in a recent issue of the Journal for Consumer Research.

"The next time you're feeling well, don't focus too much on all the good things in the past," the researchers wrote. "Instead, keep that positive glow and focus on your future, especially all the good things you imagine to come. Your waistline will thank you!"

Explore further: Psychologists warn that therapies based on positive emotions may not work for Asians

Related Stories

Happiness contributes to longer life: study

November 1, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Don’t Worry. Be Happy. The words from this famous song may have more meaning than originally intended according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ...

Recommended for you

Men more likely to be seen as 'creative thinkers'

September 28, 2015

People tend to associate the ability to think creatively with stereotypical masculine qualities, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings ...

Babies time their smiles to make their moms smile in return

September 23, 2015

Why do babies smile when they interact with their parents? Could their smiles have a purpose? In the Sept. 23 issue of PLOS ONE, a team of computer scientists, roboticists and developmental psychologists confirm what most ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.