The aroma of a mouth-watering dessert can make you splurge money on unnecessary purchases.
A new study has suggested that exposure to something that stimulates the appetite can make a person more impulsive with unrelated purchases.
The study, led by Xiuping Li of National University of Singapore, found that an appetitive stimulus not only affects behaviour in a specific behaviour domain, but also induces a shared state that propels a consumer to choose smaller–sooner options in unrelated domains.
“We found that an appetitive stimulus not only affects behaviour in a specific behaviour domain, but also induces a shared state that propels a consumer to choose smaller–sooner options in unrelated domains. Similarly, the presence of an attractive woman in the trading room might propel an investor to choose the investment option providing smaller but sooner rewards,” Li said.
The study was divided into two experiments. In the first experiment, Li asked participants to act as ‘photo editors of a magazine’ and choose among either appetite stimulating pictures of food or non-appetite stimulating pictures of nature.
A control group was shown no pictures at all. All were then asked to participate in a lottery that would either pay them less money sooner or more money later.
The results showed that those who had been exposed to the photos of food were almost twenty percentage points more likely to choose the lottery with the chance of a smaller, more immediate payoff than those who were exposed to the photos of nature and eleven percentage points more likely to choose the short-term gain than those who had not been exposed to any stimulus.
In the second experiment, the researchers used a cookie-scented candle to further gauge whether appetitive stimulus affects consumer behaviour.
Female study participants in a room with a hidden chocolate-chip cookie scented candle were much more likely to make an unplanned purchase of a new sweater, even when told they were on a tight budget, than those randomly assigned to a room with a hidden unscented candle.
“The scent of the appetitive stimulus led to reduced happiness with remote gains, which implied that participants in a present-oriented state were less sensitive to future values. In addition, [this] experiment showed that participants were more likely to satisfy their current and spontaneous desire if they were exposed to the unrelated appetitive stimulus before they made the decision,” Li said.
“If retailers want to push their customers to shop more rather than stay longer, they should not only maintain a pleasant environment but also an environment full of temptations and excitement,” Li added.
The study is published in the Journal of Consumer Research.