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Longing Influences Choice

September 2007 - Research from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium published in the Journal of Consumer Research has found that longing for something intensely (like a holiday or food) can change an individual's choice making processes with a wider array of options considered than would normally be the case.

In the pilot study, hungry and satiated volunteers were asked to quickly register whether they liked or disliked twenty-eight snacks by pressing a red or green button. Hungry participants were asked not to eat for the preceding four hours; the others to eat a large piece of cake upon arrival. On average, hungry participants liked two more snacks than the others.

Researchers then tested whether diminishing desire had an inverse effect and if the perceived value of the product category affected the desire for variety. One group were exposed to "smelly two-day old sandwiches, messily left near one experimenter table". Volunteers were then asked to choose what sandwich they would like to eat every day for the next working week apparently as part of a shop contest. Researchers found that in hungry participants sensitive to "disgustingness" (tested separately) exposure to the unattractive sandwiches eliminated the desire for greater variety.

Researchers explained:

"Our hypothesis joins two different ideas. The first is the idea that an active desire increases the perceived value of the desired object class. The second is the idea that this increase in perceived value can influence variety-seeking tendencies. Our results support the notion that an active desire increases the value of any item that may satisfy the desire: Due to a particular desire, a larger number of items may be considered satisfactory than in the absence of that particular desire."

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