The Helpfulness of Hope
Most of us are aware that we often fall victim to emotional eating, but isn’t that only when we’re feeling bad? Not so, according to a study conducted by a professor at the Penn State Smeal College of Business.
For instance, when you have a good day at the office, you feel positive. Sometimes you feel so good about your workday that you treat yourself to a candy bar from the vending machine. Other times your positivity leads you to choose a healthier option, such as fruit. Thus, even positive emotions can lead to unhealthy food choices, but not always. What determines when your positive feelings lead to unhealthier snacking rather than restraint?
Karen Winterich, assistant professor of marketing, and co-author Kelly Haws of Texas A&M University look at the complicated relationship between positive emotions and food consumption. The researchers teased out the difference between positive feelings that arise from thinking about the past or present (pride and happiness) and hope, which is a more future-oriented emotion.
In four studies, the researchers find 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 authors’ first study, hopeful participants consumed fewer M&Ms than people who experienced happiness. Even when feeling hopeful, participants in a second study 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 have 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 (hopefulness, anticipated pride) to future focused negative emotions (fear, anticipated shame). They found that only the combination of positivity and a future focused state of mind improved self-control.
“The next time you’re feeling well, don’t focus too much on all the good things in the past,” write the researchers. “Instead, keep that positive glow and focus on your future, especially all the good things you imagine to come. Your waistline will thank you!”
Their study, “Helpful Hopefulness: The Effect of Future Positive Emotions on Consumption,” appeared in the October 2011 issue of the Journal for Consumer Research.