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PRIMEMEAL: The science behind healthy lifestyle choices

Ana Isabel Costa

The rates of obesity in our society continue to rise, despite what seems like a never-ending flood of health, nutrition and dietary advice. Why are more and more people struggling to make the right food choices, when there is seemingly so much information about healthy eating out there?

The FCT-funded PRIMEMEAL research project attempted to answer this question by highlighting the importance of increasing and preserving the psychological will power needed to overcome internal and external cues about tempting foods, so that one may eat more accordingly to long-term health goals. Its first line of research focused on the health benefits of eating more meals at home and the promotion of home cooking habits. The second elucidated the role of grocery shopping lists on discouraging impulse buying of unhealthy foods, while the third evaluated the impact of introducing nutritional information in restaurant menus on our ability to make healthier food choices when eating out.

Overall, PRIMEMEAL makes important contributions to the design of social marketing strategies and public policy that successfully promote healthy diets and help fight the obesity epidemic. E-PRIMEMEAL, a follow-up project also funded by FCT, has recently started to investigate how to best apply these contributions in the development of smartphone apps that effectively stimulate healthy eating behavior on a large scale.

Costa, A.I.A. (2018). PRIMEMEAL - Using consumer psychology to promote healthier meal choices. Impact, 2018(4), 30-32(3).

Forecasting the Duration of Emotions: A Motivational Account and Self-Other Differences

Cláudia Simão

Did  you  ever  wonder  how  long  would  you  feel  happy  if  you  won  the  lottery?  Or  how  long  would  you  be  angry  if  you  got  fired  from  your  job?  And  what  about  one  of  your  co-workers,  or  a  neighbor?  Thinking  about  the  future  is  full  of  predictions  about  how  people  will  feel  and  for  how  long.  Based  on  these  predictions  people  will  make  decisions  on  how  much  they  should  invest  in  a  lottery  ticket  or  how  much  hard  work  
they  should  put  on  their  job.  Evidence  from  research  on  affective  forecasting  has  suggested  that  there  is  a  strong  degree  of  inaccuracy  and  over-  or  underestimation  of  these  affective  states.  What  is  then  the  ingredient  that  makes  our  predictions  powerfully  influence  our  decisions  when  we  know  that  often  we  are  just  overreacting?  Desirability!  Wishing  for  the  positive  things  to  happen  and  for  the  negative  things  to  fade  is  one  of  the  best  strategies  to  maximize  well-being  and  to  avoid  pain.  To  investigate  this  assumption,  we  conducted  six  studies  with  hundreds  of  people,  to  test  if  there  was  an  asymmetry  in  forecasting  the  duration  of  positive  vs.  negative  emotions  for  the  self  but  not  for  others.  As  recently  published  in  the  Journal  Emotion,  we  found  robust  evidence  for  the  fact  that  forecasting  the  emotion  duration  is  predicted  by  the  desire  that  events  were  to  happen  to  the  self  (vs.  others).  Some  participants  in  our  studies  were  asked  to  imagine  a  series  of  positive  events  (e.g.,  having  their  work  recognized  with  an  international  award;  graduating  in  the  top  three  of  the  class;  winning  the  lottery)  and  a  series  of  negative  events  (e.g.,  being  betrayed  by  his/her  loved  one;  having  cancer;  getting  fired)  as  if  they  were  happening  to  the  self.  Other  participants  were  asked  to  imagine  the  same  events  as  if  they  were  to  happen  to  an  average  person.  After  each  event  everyone  was  asked  to  estimate  the  duration  of  happiness  for  positive  events  and  sadness  for  negative  events  and  the  extent  to  which  they  found  each  of  the  event  desirable.  Among  those  who  made  estimates  for  the  self,  happiness  was  estimated  to  last  significantly  longer  than  sadness.  This  valence  asymmetry  was  highly  related  to  the  desirability  of  the  event,  which  was  found  only  for  the  self  but  not  for  average  others.  To  make  our  account  more  solid,  in  another  study,  some  participants  read  about  how  desirable  is  to  experience  more  negative  and  less  positive  emotions.  The  other  participants  were  not  instructed  to  read  anything  (control  group).  Next  participants  were  asked  to  estimate  the  duration  of  happiness  for  the  same  positive  events  and  the  duration  of  sadness  for  the  same  negative  events.  For  those  participants  who  were  encouraged  to  desire  more  negative  and  less  positive  emotions,  the  duration  asymmetry  between  happiness  and  sadness  was  less  pronounced  than  for  participants  in  the  control  group.  Motivated  thinking  is  actually  a  powerful  tool  to  influence  decision-making  and  to  maximize  the  experience  of  desirable  affective  states.  However,  we  believe  that  desirable  asymmetric  forecasts  for  the  self  vs.  others  may  have  harsh  consequences  on  different  grounds.  Particularly,  in  
risk-taking  behavior:  If  people  believe  that  their  own  desirable  emotions  are  to  last  longer  than  their  undesirable  ones,  they  might  underestimate  the  consequences  of  their  undesirable  behavior,  becoming  more  vulnerable  to  irrational  financial  decisions  or  unhealthy  behaviors. 

Mata,  A.,  Simão,  C.,  Farias,  A.  R.,  &  Steimer,  A.  (2018).  Forecasting  the  Duration  of  Emotions:  A  Motivational  Account  and  Self-Other  Differences.  Emotion.

Better or Different? How Political Ideology Shapes Preferences for Differentiation in the Social Hierarchy

Daniel Fernandes

Previous research shows that all consumers seek differentiation in choices. Consumers want to show their identity in their choices. We show that liberals and conservatives seek differentiation in distinct ways. Liberals seek horizontal differentiation with more unique, different, personalized products, whereas conservatives seek vertical differentiation with more status, luxurious, high price products. This is because conservatives and liberals hold opposing beliefs about the legitimacy of the social hierarchy. Conservatives endorse the dominance-based view that the social hierarchy legitimately reflects individual differences in effort and ability, whereas liberals oppose that view. Someone driving a convertible Ferrari is more likely to vote for Trump. And someone wearing orange tennis shoes is more likely to vote for Obama.

Ordabayeva, N. & Fernandes, D. (2018). Better or Different? How Political Ideology Shapes Preferences for Differentiation in the Social Hierarchy. Journal of Consumer Research.

How Am I Doing? Perceived Financial Well-Being, Its Potential Antecedents, and Its Relation to Overall Well-Being

Daniel Fernandes

Regarding the financial well-being paper, in a nutshell, we develop a scale of financial well-being that is composed of two related, but separate constructs: 1) current money management stress); and 2) expected future financial security. Separate antecedents predict these two constructs. Present-biased behaviors like making late or minimum payments, being materialistic and lacking self-control increase current money management stress, whereas more long-term beneficial behaviors like planning for money, having savings and investments, and being willing to take risks increase future financial security. Financial well-being explains about half of the variance in general well-being. This is a very strong effect for social science standards. For comparison purposes, other important domains of life such as relationship support, job satisfaction, and health altogether explain another half of the variance in general well-being. This shows that our personal finances represent a key part of our well-being. For low-income consumers, current money management stress has a stronger influence on well-being. For middle and high-income consumers, what really matters is a sense of future financial security.

Netemeyer, R. G., Warmath, D., Fernandes, D. & Lynch Jr., J.  (in press). How Am I Doing? Perceived Financial Well-Being, Its Potential Antecedents, and Its Relation to Overall Well-Being. Journal of Consumer Research.

What's next? Disentangling availability from representativeness using binary decision tasks

João Niza Braga

Will Cristiano Ronaldo be the star of the upcoming champions league?

Whether you’re trying to predict if Cristiano Ronaldo will be the top scorer of this year’s UEFA Champion’s League or simply planning your weekend, most human activities imply some thought about the future, about how things will unfold. This concern about the future is particularly evident in the business world, where companies spend many resources looking for the most accurate models to predict their destinies. Be it predicting sales, employees’ performance, economical fluctuations or how society in general will evolve. Despite these efforts, final decisions invariably depend on managers’ predictive abilities. And in such complex and uncertain environments, managers, and people in general, often base their predictions on their intuition.

In the mid 70’s the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky proposed that human intuition relies on mental shortcuts, called heuristics, that make use of very little information to achieve quick (and often sound) responses. Two of these heuristics, the availability and the representativeness heuristics, are particularly useful to make intuitive predictions and judgments about the future. According to the availability heuristic, predictions are based on the outcome that most easily comes to mind, so the future is expected to be a continuation of the most accessible (often the most recent) past. Imagine you are trying to predict whether Ronaldo will be the top scorer of the following champion’s league. If you are aware he was the top scorer on the past few editions of this competition, the idea of seeing Ronaldo at the top will be very accessible in your mind. The availability of this outcome will then raise the intuition that Ronaldo will hit the top again. On the other hand, predictions based on the representativeness heuristic are based on a general representation of the event we are trying to predict, such as a prototypical pattern of outcomes. The future is then expected to conform to such representation. Thus, when predicting Ronaldo’s performance, if you are made aware he is almost 34 years-old, a veteran footballer, you will generate an intuition that fits the representation of a veteran athlete. Because veteran athletes are associated to performance declining, your intuition will tell that Ronaldo won’t be the top scorer this season.

As illustrated, these two heuristics may sometimes lead to different predictions, making it important to understand when will one or the other guide our intuitions about the future. This research proposes that making use of a salient past outcome to predict the future – the availability heuristic – is simpler and faster than to use a general representation of the event and predict an outcome that fits such representation – the representativeness heuristic.

Five experimental studies tested this idea by asking participants to make binary predictions while measuring or manipulating the time participants had to make their predictions. To illustrate, in one study participants observed streaks of successful performances from veteran athletes and had to predict whether each athlete would continue to be successful or start to decay. We found that participants were more likely to expect the veteran to continue the successful streak, indicating the use of the availability heuristic, when their predictions were made under time pressure. When they were not under time pressure they were more likely to expect performance decay, indicating the use of representativeness heuristic.

Together the studies reported in the full article indicate that although intuition saves us from having to deliberate about things that are too complex and demanding, intuitions about the future are not all based in the same processes. Expecting the future to conform to a general representation is a more complex and slower process than expecting a repetition of the most accessible past outcome. Therefore, when predictions are made under time-pressure, representativeness heuristic may be constrained, and predictions are more likely to be based on the availability heuristic.

How managers use different sources of information or knowledge to generate intuitions about the future may depend on the time, and presumably the cognitive resources, they have available to generate these intuitions. So, if you are to predict sales performance or your team performance in a project, you may intuitively expect the future to conform with the most prototypical or representative outcome for this category of products or this team. However, if you lack time or resources to access such representations, your intuitions will expect the most salient and accessible outcome to occur. If last month sales’ or team’s performance were just great, such outcomes will easily come to mind, and you will intuitively feel that the future will look the same. Understanding how we build our intuitions about the future may thus help us identify which intuitions we want to trust.

Braga, J. N., Ferreira, M. B., Sherman, S. J., Mata, A., Jacinto, S., & Ferreira, M. (2018). What's next? Disentangling availability from representativeness using binary decision tasks. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 307-319.

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