Selected Journal Publications

20.03.2019

Pressed for Time: Perceived Busyness and Consumer Decision Making

When Busy is Less Indulging: Impact of a Busy Mindset on Self-Control Behaviours
KIM, Christine | WADHWA, Monica | CHATTOPADHYAY, Amitava
Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 45

Famous economist John Maynard Keynes once predicted that by 2028, living conditions would improve so much that we would only have to work three to four hours a day. However, today, an increasing number of people feel busier than ever. Consequently, many advertisements empathize with consumers’ busy lifestyles. Yet, little is known about how the subjective perception of one’s self as being busy—induced by exposure to busyness-related media cues—impacts consumer decision making.

As such, a recent study by Jeehye Kim, Monica Wadhwa, and Amitava Chattopadhyay examines the effect of a busy mindset on consumers’ decisions, in terms of immediate gratification or delayed long-term benefits. Existing research shows that time pressure forces consumers to react emotionally and on impulse, resulting in lapses of self-control. Yet, this study explores whether merely perceiving one’s self as busy, without actually being pressured for time, could in fact increase self-control by bolstering self-importance. Indeed, other studies suggest a positive association between perceptions of busyness and self-importance.

Across seven studies—using varied busy mindset manipulations, including subtle marketing cues and various measures of self-control behaviours, such as financial decisions, preference for immediate gratification, and actual consumption behaviours—the authors show that a busy mindset enhances consumers’ feelings of self-importance, which in turn facilitates self-control behaviours. They propose that perhaps “busyness is a state of mind that people prefer to be in… it makes us feel as though every moment of our lives matters”.

The studies also demonstrate the boundary condition of when this busy effect is attenuated. First, the busy effect is attenuated among those who believe that busyness is not good. That is, the perception that one is busy enhances self-importance and facilitates self-control only to the degree that one believes that being busy is good. Second, the busy effect is attenuated when the time pressure is high. When the time pressure is high, the negative effect of time pressure on self-control wipes out the positive effect of busyness.  This finding rasises the concern that care should be taken when reaching any conclusions based purely on time pressure, since existing research on time pressure does not take into account how the subjective perception of busyness impacts behaviours.

The study has important managerial implications for both marketers and policy makers. First, it is assumed that since consumers are busy, busy appeals should make the product more relevant and thus more favourable. However, the study shows that busy marketing appeals could be detrimental for brands that are deemed indulgent, but profitable for those seen as healthy. Second, the findings suggest that activating a busy mindset might be an easier and more effective means of facilitating self-control behaviour. This is contrary to what is commonly believed, since busyness is often seen as being bad for one’s health. In other words, it could have a positive rather than a negative impact on well-being and could be used to encourage a healthier lifestyle for consumers.


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