Overcoming Temptations

Many purchase and consumption decisions involve an intrapersonal struggle between consumers’ righteous, prudent side and their indulgent, pleasure-seeking side. Whereas purchasing and consuming utilitarian necessities and virtues (e.g., a practical car, a healthful food item) is considered responsible and farsighted, yielding to hedonic temptations (e.g., buying a luxurious car, eating a chocolate cake) is viewed as impulsive and wasteful. The perceived precedence of virtue and necessity over vice and luxury is at least as old as ancient Greek civilization (Plato and Aristotle argue that reason should rule appetitive and passionate elements). Similarly, consumer self-control research emphasizes the importance of exercising willpower and controlling desires. Much of this research has been premised on the notion that consumption and purchase of vices generate regret. According to this perspective, consumers are better off in the long run if they choose virtue over vice, work over leisure, and utilitarian necessities over hedonic luxuries.
Recent research challenges this approach and suggests that consumers often suffer from a reverse self-control problem—namely, excessive farsightedness and overcontrol, or “hyperopia.” Hyperopic consumers overemphasize virtue and necessity at the expense of indulgence and luxury. It has been suggested that consumers who recognize their tendency to avoid temptations and focus on doing “the right thing” precommit to indulgences to ensure that the goal of having more fun and luxury is realized. Furthermore, researchers have demonstrated that though in the short run it appears preferable to act responsibly and choose virtue over vice, over time such righteous behavior generates increasing regret. It has been argued that the passage of time attenuates regret about choosing vice and accentuates regret about choosing virtue because of the decay of indulgence guilt and the intensification of feelings of missing out on the pleasures of life.

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