Justification and Indulgence: Determinants of Justification and Indulgence

Kivetz, Ran; Zheng, Yuhuang

The decision to indulge is often painful because it evokes guilt and requires sacrificing prudence and necessities. While prior research and common sense suggest that people will allow themselves to indulge when they have a compelling justification, we still know very little about the determinants of such justification and consequent indulgence. Building on prior analyses in the social sciences, the authors propose two complementary routes to justifying indulgence: one through hard work or excellent performance (an entitlement justification) and the second through the attainment of indulgence without depleting income or monetary resources. A synthesis of these two routes leads to several hypotheses, which are tested using actual effort tasks and real choices. Consistent with the two routes to justification, we demonstrate that (a) higher required effort enhances preference for indulgence rewards, but a reverse effect is observed when the interchangeability of effort and income is implied; (b) providing (bogus) excellence feedback on an effort task enhances choices of indulgence over a more prudent necessity, unless the interchangeability of effort and income is suggested; (c) willingness-to-pay in effort is greater for indulgences than necessities, but willingness-to-pay in money or in effort framed as income is higher for necessities than indulgences; and (d) sensitivity to the type and magnitude of the perceived resource is greater for individuals with stronger indulgence guilt. We conclude by discussing the automaticity of justification and indulgence and the ability of the discovered justification routes to explain the findings of prior research.



More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 05-05
Published Here
August 18, 2010


August 2005.