Transformative Topics


Welcome to December's second installment of Transformative Topics. This week, we will look at the ways we can practice mindfulness during the holidays, starting with mindful eating habits. Let's explore the work of Blair Kidwell, Jonathan Hasford, and David M. Hardesty, titled "Emotional Ability Training and Mindful Eating." You can find full information for the paper on the TCR website here.

 

Blair reflects on the paper and the importance of this research topic:  

 

"Due to the routine nature of most daily decisions, such as what to eat and what to buy, most people do not give enough thought to their choices. Instead, they rely on simple heuristics and habitual behaviors. It should be the case that if people would stop and think about their decisions, then those choices would improve. Unfortunately, research at the time was not finding much support for this perspective. This was due in part because of the heavy focus cognitive and environmental aspects of decision making. For example, increasing nutrition knowledge, or creating environmental nudges such as calorie postings at fast food restaurants was showing minimal if any improvements in food choices. To us, this made sense because of the emotional nature of these types of decisions. People eat unhealthy fast food even when they know it’s not good for them, and do so despite seeing a menu listing how many calories are in a Big Mac. Rather, they eat because of their emotions. Unhealthy foods can be comforting when people are sad, or a reward when they’re happy, or a splurge when celebrating, or simply something tasty when they’re bored. Thus, we hypothesized that if people would merely take a moment and consider their feelings such as how the particular food makes them feel, and their subsequent emotional responses such as how will it make them feel later, they will make significantly healthier decisions. Even though many people were not good at this initially, they could learn to use their emotions more mindfully to begin making healthier decisions. We then developed an emotional ability training program to essentially persuade and motivate people to think about their current emotions and how these emotions could influence their decisions.

In our initial study, we found that individuals in the emotional ability training group, when asked to describe their eating habits, expressed significantly more “goal-relevant emotional thoughts”, meaning that they generated more thoughts about their present-moment emotions and how those emotions could be used wisely in their decisions. There were significantly fewer emotional thoughts in the control group or the nutrition knowledge training group. Hence, we argued and subsequently demonstrated across our studies that, to make better choices, people must learn to generate more thoughts about their emotions, in essence become more “emotionally mindful” in their decision making. Further, as an unexpected outcome, we found that respondents didn’t just think about emotions related to food, but became more mindful about their emotions in general. As a result, beyond improved food choices and subsequent weight loss, their views about their overall health improved, along with their feelings of attractiveness. Even their financial decisions improved. Thus, getting people to focus on present moment goal-relevant emotions (emotional mindfulness), may provide a holistic approach to improving health.

 

To find more work on the topic, search the TCR's publication archives, typing a keyword or author into the search box.

 

Citation:  Kidwell, B., Hasford, J., & Hardesty, D. M. (2015). Emotional ability training and mindful eating. Journal of Marketing Research, 52(1), 105-119. 

 

Abstract:  Consumers are often mindless eaters. This research provides a framework for how consumers can become more mindful of their food choices. To do so, the authors develop an ability-based training program to strengthen people's ability to focus on goal-relevant emotional information. They demonstrate not only that emotional ability (EA) is trainable and that food choices can be enhanced (Study 1) but also that EA training improves food choices beyond a nutrition knowledge training program (Study 2). In Study 3, the authors test a conceptual model and find that EA training increases goal-relevant emotional thoughts and reduces reliance on the unhealthy = tasty intuition. Both factors mediate mindful eating effects. Last, Study 4 demonstrates the long-term benefits of EA training by showing that emotionally trained people lose more weight in a three-month period than a control group and a nutrition knowledge training group. Together, these findings suggest that consumers can gain control of their food choices through the enhancement of EA. The article concludes with a discussion of implications for policy officials, health care professionals, and marketers.

 

Written on behalf of your TCR Digital Outreach Team

Laurel Steinfield -  lsteinfield@bentley.edu

Roland Gau -  roland@nctu.edu.tw

Shauna Kearney -  Shauna.Kearney@bcu.ac.uk

Naz Onel - Naz.Onel@stockton.edu

Jane Machin -  jmachin@radford.edu

 

If you have suggestions for articles or topics to feature please reach out to any member of the Digital Outreach Team. 

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