It might seem too good to be true, but scientists have found consumers who use a simple strategy to resist temptations – by saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” when confronting guilty pleasures – are more able to just say no.
Researchers, writing in the Journal of Consumer Research, said experiments involving 30 women found the approach to be effective -- perhaps because saying “I don’t” confers a greater sense of power and control.
"Whether it's Buffalo wings at a tailgate or heaping plates of calories at the Thanksgiving day dinner table that is your downfall, help is merely a couple of words away," wrote researchers Vanessa M. Patrick (of the University of Houston) and Henrik Hagtvedt (of Boston College).
"When faced with a tempting slice of pumpkin pie, one's spontaneous response, 'I can't eat pumpkin pie' signals deprivation,” they added. “Saying 'I don't eat pumpkin pie' is more effective. This approach signals to oneself (and others) a sense of determination and empowerment, which makes the refusal strategy more effective.”
For their research, Patrick and Hagtvedt tracked the experiences of women who were divided up into three groups. One group was assigned the "don't" strategy, another was given the "can't" strategy, and a third group was given a generic "just-say-no" strategy.
The participants were then asked to report back on instances when the various strategies worked and when they didn’t. Researchers found the "I don't" strategy increased participants' feelings of autonomy, control, and self-awareness; and it resulted in a greater ability to resist temptation.