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Nidhi Agrawal, associate professor of marketing and the James R. McManus Research Chair

Nidhi Agrarwal, associate professor of marketing and the James R. McManus Research Chair

Self-control and choices

Nidhi Agrawal explores why we take the easy path after exerting ourselves

1/19/2011 - After a rough day at the office, you may well opt for a convenient, pretty restaurant over one with a top-notch menu, according to a new study by Associate Professor of Marketing Nidhi Agrawal in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Agrawal and co-author Echo Wen Wan of the University of Hong Kong found that people who are tired from a demanding task tend to pass up the most desirable choices — those that are “widest in scope and best in primary traits” — and go for options that seem to have attractive low-level features.

“If you’ve had a tough day at work, how will that affect the decisions you make, like where to eat, what to do and what to buy?” the authors ask.

They found that after a difficult flight, for example, a consumer would most likely choose a restaurant with a great view over one with excellent food. And someone who just finished a big presentation would opt for a convenient concert over one by a favorite band.

“When we feel fresh, it’s relatively easy for us to focus on the primary features of a product, consider the outcome of a choice, and value the long-term benefits of an action,” the authors explain. “However, when we feel depleted from exerting self-control, we start to attend to the non-central minor aspects, think about how feasible it is to engage in the choice, and sometimes emphasize short-term rewards.”

The authors also found that they could prompt participants to think at higher levels. In one experiment, depleted individuals chose an art exhibit that was convenient. But when they were primed to think at a higher level, they chose the exhibit by an artist they liked.

The study, “Carry-Over Effects of Self-Control on Decision-Making: A Construal Level Perspective,” is slated to appear in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.