New Research by Bauer College Professor Suggests Desire Can Be Tempered by Postponing It

Dr. Vanessa Patrick Is Co-Author of Paper Published in January’s
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

HOUSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–It is the time of the year when people resolve to improve their lives —
eat better, exercise more, spend smart, sleep well. Yet despite such
good intentions, it can be hard to stick to resolutions. Temptation is
everywhere. Desires often sidetrack people from their goals. No wonder
Jan. 17 is known as Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day.

Now, a new study suggests consumers may be able to curb desires by
simply postponing them indefinitely.

While conventional methods of resisting temptation have focused on
harnessing will power, abstinence and denial, C. T. Bauer College of
Business Professor Vanessa M. Patrick and co-author Nicole L. Mead of
Erasmus University suggest there may be a better way to manage the pangs
of desire.

Writing in the January issue of Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, Mead and Patrick argue that by postponing temptations to an
unspecific time in the future, consumers can make longer lasting
behavioral changes.

An example: Imagine yourself walking by an ice-cream store and feeling
the urge to indulge. A common response would be to deprive yourself.
Alternatively, you could postpone by saying: “Sure, I can have
ice-cream, but maybe later.”

“If we postpone consumption at peak desire, in the heat of the moment,
we are less likely to want to consume later,’’ Patrick, a consumer
psychologist and Bauer College professor of marketing, says of the

“What we theorized,” Patrick said, “is that saying we can have it later
not only helps self-regulate in the present, but also serves as a signal
to our future selves that says: ‘I didn’t really want ice-cream that
much.’ This helps us manage desires over the longer term.”

“What’s nice about this particular method of self-regulation is that we
make inferences about our desire and learn from our own behavioral
response to temptation.”

It is important that the decision to postpone be unspecific. This
research shows that if a person postpones the temptation to a specific
time, then they are likely to follow through with that decision. “If you
say, ‘I will eat chocolate at dinner,’ you will eat chocolate at
dinner,” Patrick says.

The professors believe the research, based on four experiments conducted
at Erasmus University, can be a powerful tool for people who want to
change their habits for the longer term.

“It is a behavioral insight that helps you achieve your goals and
self-regulate, but it’s also a form of compassionate self-control. It’s
not self-deprivation. It’s not this terrible feeling of ‘I can’t have
this. I really wish I could, but I can’t.’ At some point, that breaks
down because we can’t keep on constraining ourselves,” Patrick added.

Patrick believes the paper — “The Taming of Desire: Unspecific
Postponement Reduces Desire for and Consumption of Postponed
Temptations” — moves the needle in a positive, more self-compassionate

A Professor of Marketing and the Director of Bauer’s Doctoral Programs,
she is a leading expert in consumer psychology and studies “the two
sides of the pleasure coin.” Her research investigates both the pull of
pleasure (in terms of art, aesthetics and luxury) and the strategies and
interventions by which consumers can manage their appetites for
pleasure. Her work has appeared in leading consumer research and
psychology journals and has been covered by ABC News, Los Angeles Times,
The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and NPR.

Mead is an Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing Management
at the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology — a highly regarded,
peer-reviewed scientific publication — is published monthly by the
American Psychological Association.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and
teaching institution is home to more than 40 research centers and
institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic
and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in
the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service
with more than 35,000 students.

About the C. T. Bauer College of Business

The C. T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than
60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five
academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate,
masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully
accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance
Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader
and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of
Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the
college was renamed the C. T. Bauer College of Business.


C. T. Bauer College of Business
Jessica Navarro, 713-743-4348
713-419-5486 (mobile)