This is a simple example of the entitlement effect. At its essence, the entitlement effect is what happens whenever we feel like we have made progress towards a goal (or completed one). We feel entitled to reward ourselves for the progress by indulging. Sometimes the indulgence is directly related to the goal – for example rewarding ourselves after a big workout with an indulgent meal. Sometimes it is unconscious and only partially related – such as the junk food purchases in the @hiddenbrain story.
Researchers ran a couple of experiments, which suggest that when people visualize taking their own bags to get groceries, especially when they are doing it of their own accord and not because of a store policy, they’re more likely to indulge themselves and buy themselves treats.
Something we need to worry about as behavioral designers is that the indulgence often completely counteracts the success. If the indulgent meal has more extra calories than the preceding workout – our users are never going to lose weight. This is a common problem with high calorie sports drinks and energy bars. They have hundreds of calories – many more than we burn in our workouts.
Another worry is that the progress could be imaginary. I read a study once where people posted on Facebook that they planned to quit smoking (or diet or . . .) and the feeling of progress from going public allowed them to put off the actual quitting/dieting for a few extra days. Or completely. I am embarrassed to say I am guilty of doing that once myself.
As designers, have you ever had to counteract the entitlement effect? As a user, have you ever indulged in it? Please, share your stories.
Image Credit: TooHotToHandle