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David Gal, assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School

 David Gal, assistant professor of marketing at Kellogg School

How self-control leads to anger

A new study by David Gal finds that dieting can stir up aggressive behavior

3/24/2011 - People who make an effort to exert self-control are attracted to aggressive art and public policy appeals. They also don’t appreciate messages that nag them to control their behavior.

That’s according to a new study by David Gal, assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, and Wendy Liu of the University of California San Diego.

For the study, the researchers executed a series of experiments that examined whether exerting self-control could lead to a range of “angry behaviors” and preferences. Sure enough, they found that exercising personal restraint — i.e., by going on a diet — made a person “more likely to behave aggressively towards others,” the authors write.

The researchers found that people who exerted self-control were more likely to prefer anger-themed movies; were more interested in looking at angry facial expressions; were more persuaded by anger-framed appeals; and expressed more irritation at a message that used controlling language to convince them to change their exercise habits.

In one study, people who chose an apple over a chocolate bar were more likely to choose movies with anger and revenge themes than milder movies. In another study, participants who exerted financial restraint by choosing a gift certificate for groceries over one for a spa service showed more interest in looking at angry faces rather than at fearful ones.

In a third experiment, dieters had more favorable opinions toward a public policy message that used an anger-framed appeal (such as “if funds are not increased for police training, more criminals will escape prison”) than they did toward a sad message. Finally, participants who chose a healthy snack over a tastier, less-healthy one were more irritated by a marketer’s message that included controlling language (words such as “you ought to,” “need to,” and “must”).

The researchers conclude that “policy makers need to be more aware of the potential negative emotions resulting from encouraging the public to exert more self control in daily choices,” they write. “Instead, behavioral interventions might rely on a broader range of methods to foster positive behaviors toward long-term goals.”

The study, "Grapes of Wrath: The Angry Effects of Exerting Self-Control,” will be published in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.