Study: Busy people make healthier choices

Busyness is often thought of as a modern day affliction, but it can also help you delay gratification and make decisions that benefit you in the longer-term, according to new research from the global business school INSEAD.

Every day, we make many decisions that involve choosing between our immediate and future well-being. For instance, do we go to the gym after work, or do we just go home to relax in front of the television? Do we save money for retirement, or do we splurge on a trip? Do we eat fruit or cake for dessert? When we perceive ourselves to be busy, it boosts our self-esteem, tipping the balance in favour of the more virtuous choice,” said Amitava Chattopadhyay, Professor of Marketing at INSEAD.

In a new paper, Chattopadhyay and his co-authors, Monica Wadhwa, Associate Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, Fox School of Business at Temple University and Jeehye Christine Kim, Assistant Professor of Marketing at HKUST, show that the mere perception of self as a busy person, or what they call a busy mindset, is a “badge of honour” that can be leveraged to promote better self-control. Their paper, titled “When Busy Is Less Indulging: Impact of a Busy Mindset on Self-Control Behaviours”, is forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research.

This paper shows there can be a flip side to being busy. While people who feel under significant time pressure tend to get anxious and make hedonic decisions, those who simply think of themselves as busy tend to make virtuous choices as a result of their perceived self-importance.

Busyness as a way to boost self-esteem

Across a series of studies, the researchers activated the busy mindset of participants through various means. Sometimes they exposed them to messaging that subtly suggested that they were busy individuals. In other experiments, they asked participants to write what had been keeping them busy recently.

Participants were then asked to make decisions in different self-control domains related to food, exercise or retirement savings, for example. Participants who had been reminded of their busy lifestyle were consistently more inclined than control participants to make virtuous decisions.

Importantly, the studies proved that a heightened sense of self-importance was the key reason behind the increase in self-control. “When we temporarily dampened the sense of self-importance of participants who otherwise felt busy, the self-control effect vanished,” said Chattopadhyay.

Implications for marketing and policymaking

It is common for marketers to use busyness as a campaign concept, as many consumers can relate to it. However, if the advertised product is an indulgent one – such as fast food – the campaign could backfire. “Busyness appeals should be more effective for products that require people to assert self-control, as would be the case for a gym chain, for example,” said Chattopadhyay.

In addition, these findings could find societal applications in the spheres of health promotion or food waste reduction. Policymakers may want to consider ways to activate a busy mindset as a nudge to increase relevant self-control behaviours in the population.​

About INSEAD, The Business School for the World As one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD brings together people, cultures and ideas to change lives and to transform organisations. A global perspective and cultural diversity are reflected in all aspects of its research and teaching.

With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), INSEAD’s business education and research spans three continents. The school’s 145 renowned Faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 degree participants annually in its MBA, Executive MBA, Executive Master in Finance, Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 10,000 executives participate in INSEAD’sexecutive education programmes each year.

In addition to INSEAD’s programmes on its three campuses, INSEAD participates in academic partnerships with the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia & San Francisco); the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University near Chicago; the Johns Hopkins University/SAIS in Washington DC and the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York; and MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In Asia, INSEAD partners with School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai. INSEAD is a founding member in the multidisciplinary Sorbonne University created in 2012, and also partners with Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil.

INSEAD became a pioneer of international business education with the graduation of the first MBA class on the Fontainebleau campus in Europe in 1960. In 2000, INSEAD opened its Asia campus in Singapore. And in 2007 the school began an association in the Middle East, officially opening the Abu Dhabi campus in 2010.

Around the world and over the decades, INSEAD continues to conduct cutting edge research and to innovate across all its programmes to provide business leaders with the knowledge and sensitivity to operate anywhere. These core values have enabled us to become truly “The Business School for the World”.

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