Chocolate Cake Please! Why Do Consumers Indulge More When It Feels More Expensive?

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Chocolate Cake Please! Why Do Consumers Indulge More When It Feels More Expensive?

This article examines how imputed costs influence food consumption. Across one field study and three lab studies, the authors demonstrate that the greater the imputed cost of consumption, the greater is the likelihood of choosing a more indulgent, high-calorie food. Specifically, the authors show that when the imputed costs of payment are higher, such as when making purchases using cash (vs. a credit card) or when pain associated with cash spending is higher, consumers are more likely to purchase and consume higher-calorie foods. The authors provide evidence that consuming indulgent foods actually alleviates the pain of payment and leads to greater positive affect. These findings extend current research by demonstrating how method of payment affects consumption choice. They also provide an alternative explanation of why consumption of indulgent foods increases during economic downturns and why consumers who impute higher costs to payment indulge more.