4 Weird Academic Studies on Economics and Consumer Behavior

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Studies show that flexing one’s muscles may help fight off—or possibly cause—wasteful impulse purchases, and other weird money findings.

Here’s a roundup of some recent quirky research findings:

For a sudden burst of willpower, flex your muscles. In a series of experiments testing self-control, participants who clenched their muscles when confronted with a decision demonstrated a greater ability to accept “immediate pain for long-term gain.” Clenching any muscles seemed to work—biceps, abs, calves, whatever. The authors of the study write:

The mind and the body are so closely tied together, merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower. Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit willpower, facilitate self-control, and improve consumer wellbeing.

So the next time you’re feeling tempted to make an impulse purchase, try showing everybody which way to go to get to Muscle Beach.

Shoppers make better decisions with a cart rather than a basket. As the research study above noted, the mind and body are closely aligned. Another example of how this affects consumer behavior comes from a study showing that shoppers are better off pushing shopping carts rather than carrying shopping baskets. The reason this is so, researchers find, is that the tension and strain of carrying a basket is likely to induce the shopper to seek immediate gratification and make unhealthy, wasteful purchases. The study authors write:

We demonstrate that arm flexor contraction makes individuals more likely to choose immediately pleasing options.

For most participants in the study, the immediately pleasing option they chose was chocolate. What’s funny is that the previously mentioned study suggested strategic conscious flexing in order to make better decisions, whereas this one shows that when shoppers are forced to strain and flex by carrying a basket, they make bad decisions. It’s all about who’s calling the shots, I suppose.

Your last name gives a good indication of how quickly you’ll buy stuff. According to the “last-name effect,” people whose surnames start with letters later in the alphabet are more likely to be quick on the draw to make purchases. In a series of experiments, late-in-the-alphabet participants tended to be faster and agree to make more purchases and take more chances than folks with last names like Appel and Brown. The theory why this is the case goes back to grade school, when kids with surnames starting with W, Z, etc. were constantly stuck at the back of the line and the last to get their pick at the cafeteria:

“For years, simply because of your name, you’ve received inequitable treatment,” says Kurt Carlson, an assistant professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and a co-author of the paper, which is to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “So when you get to exercise control, you seize on opportunity. It’s a coping strategy, and over time it becomes a natural way to respond.”

You’re more likely to die after receiving a paycheck. Specifically, the second paycheck, because by then you really have some money to spend—and apparently, it’s more likely to get spent in ways that aren’t good for one’s health. The economist in charge of the research explains:

We figure that when the first check comes, you have all your bills to pay, so that check is earmarked for those activities. You have a much freer disposal of the income from your second check.

(MORE: Consumer Research Roundup: 7 Studies Explaining Why You Buy, Why You Have No Free Time, and More)

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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