Research links sadness with avoidance of indulgent behavior

April 17, 2014 by Milenko Martinovich, University of Florida

Getting the kids to go easy on the chocolate bunnies this year could be simple as sitting them down Easter morning and making them watch "Old Yeller."

University of Florida marketing professor Chris Janiszewski and co-researchers Anthony Salerno and Juliano Laran from the University of Miami found evidence to support that theory. In a study scheduled to appear in the June issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, "the researchers discovered that sadness "encourages people to identify behaviors that are potentially harmful to their long-term fitness."

Janiszewski and his colleagues investigated how emotions modify the behavior of people who plan to indulge. To create a desire to indulge, 120 were asked to make a list of their favorite indulgent activities. A second group of 119 students was asked to list activities they performed on a typical day. These students were less likely to plan to indulge as a consequence of completing their task.

Then, each of group of students was asked to engage in one of four emotional activities: a sad task (they imagined breaking-up with a significant other), an angry task (they imagined having problems with their computer), a frightening task (they imagined being on a turbulent flight), or a neutral task (they imagined cleaning their apartment).

Afterward, the students watched a video on how to make origami while snacking on M&Ms. When the students had previously made a list of activities performed on a typical day, students who experienced the negative emotions ate more M&Ms than the students that had engaged in the neutral task. This shows how a negative emotion encourages the consumption of comfort food. When the students had previously listed their favorite indulgent activities, the sad students ate fewer M&Ms than the students who did not experience an emotion or the students who were angry or afraid. This shows how sadness discourages the pursuit of indulgent activities by people who plan to indulge.

"Anytime you feel sad, you try to avoid pursuing goals that lead to outcomes that could induce further harm," Janiszewski said. During the pursuit of an indulgence goal, "…An experience of sadness should increase a person's sensitivity to the potentially harmful consequences of indulgent consumption, which, in turn, should decrease the desire to indulge."

One way the findings could be useful is in curbing indulgent behavior. For instance, public policy makers could encourage the airing of sad movies such as "Titanic" or "Marley and Me" in spring break party locations. This would be a way to encourage college students to be more responsible without directly asking them to restrict their behavior. While the researchers acknowledge "it would be naïve to suggest that policy makers should actively seek out ways to make citizens feel sad," feelings of sadness could prove to be valuable in situations that are characterized by indulgence.

Explore further: Mood and food: The better your mood, the better you eat (w/ Video)

Related Stories

Mood and food: The better your mood, the better you eat (w/ Video)

February 25, 2014
Previous research has found that emotions affect eating, and that negative moods and positive moods may actually lead to preferences for different kinds of foods. For example, if given the choice between grapes or chocolate ...

Why do we enjoy listening to sad music?

July 11, 2013
Sad music might actually evoke positive emotions reveals a new study by Japanese researchers published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology. The findings help to explain why people enjoy listening to sad music, ...

Study finds interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout

April 16, 2014
Maintaining an interest in the goals you pursue can improve your work and reduce burnout, according to research from Duke University.

Positive memories of exercise spur future workouts

March 18, 2014
Getting motivated to exercise can be a challenge, but new research from the University of New Hampshire shows that simply remembering a positive memory about exercise may be just what it takes to get on the treadmill. This ...

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...


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.