When all you want, all you need is just a bite of smooth, creamy, calorie-laden chocolate ice cream and you’re not supposed to have it for whatever reason (dieting, it doesn’t belong to you), giving in to that impulse feel so guilty. And it’s so tasty, partly because it is forbidden, says a new study. Guilt makes for quite a heady addition to your favorite foods. Hence, guilty pleasures.
Food companies might want to rethink that whole “guilt-free” marketing idea if we’re really just going to go for the foods we feel the guiltiest eating anyway, suggests the findings of a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research (via Time).
The lead researcher explains:
“If you advertise your product as being ‘guilt-free’ what it could implicitly do is lower taste perception by lowering the expectation of pleasure. If you take the guilt out of it, people might not expect it to be as good, and therefore it might not taste as good. Let people benefit from the intrigue and pleasure and enjoy their experience more.”
Researchers delved into the connection between guilt and pleasure to see if certain foods like sweets taste better on a diet, when those are the very things you’re supposed to stay away from. The results seem to say that the more guilt you experience over ingesting a forbidden food, the more pleasure you’ll get out of it. Even better? Make yourself feel guilty before you even eat it.
In one part of the study, researchers had some participants dealing with subject matter related to guilt, while others stayed guilt-free, and then each were given cups of chocolate candy. Those with the guilt-related material said they liked the candy a lot better than the other group.
Another interesting part of the research involved scientists asking participants to read healthy magazine covers and then write about them, and others without health topics to do the same. Both groups had answered a survey beforehand about imagining testing out a new candy bar. Those in the health group said they felt more guilty than the other group, and also liked eating chocolate later a lot more than the other group.
It isn’t just food that triggers this response, said researchers. Anything you’re told not to do could produce pleasure if and when you give in, and could make it harder for you to stop doing those things. Like staying in bed all day on a particularly gloomy Sunday and wishing the delivery man would just get his own damn key to the apartment already. Hypothetically.
In any case, the research seems to suggest what is a bit of practical advice — if you’re mostly a healthy person, indulging yourself now and then probably won’t hurt. And it’ll feel really good to give in.