Temptation can be tough. Whether tempted to eat an extra piece of chocolate or go ahead and take a little out of savings, we could all use a little help, and that is exactly what researchers Dilip Soman and Amar Cheema explored. In two experiments, one providing scrumptious chocolate and a second financial advice, Soman and Cheema found that if you partition a resource, it makes a significant difference. This “partitioning effect”, causes you to make an extra decision that normally you would not need to make and this can be enough to help conquer temptation.
In the first experiment they provided participants 6 pieces of Godiva chocolate to be eaten over a period of one week. Those participating were only informed that the experiment was a taste test and that in one week they were to turn in their surveys. Half of the participants were provided a box with the pieces inside unwrapped (aggregated). The other half received boxes with each piece individually wrapped in foil (partitioned). This small difference had a dramatic effect. Within the first two days, 82% of those in the unwrapped condition had gobbled up all their tasty treats, while only 45% had finished in the individually wrapped condition. Almost twice as much chocolate consumed in two days!
In a second experiment, 146 workers in rural India agreed to participate in a study in exchange for free financial advice. At the time of the experiment the workers were paid 670 rupees (US$15.50) every Saturday and the average saved each week was .75% or roughly 5 rupees. Financial planners set a target goal for families to save either 40 or 80 rupees per week. Participants were separated into several groups, and within these groups over the next 14 weeks savings would be placed in either a single envelope (non-partitioned) or in two different envelopes (partitioned). While in both conditions savings rose dramatically, when two envelopes were used families saved 48% more (377 rupees vs. 230 rupees over the duration of the experiment).
The next time you find yourself struggling with motivation, take some time to reflect on your goal and consider if partitioning might work. By partitioning out a resource, whether food, cigarettes, money, etc. research shows it can help to create a psychological trigger. While the effort may seem insignificant, the need to make a decision to go ahead and open that second bag of potato chips or dip into the account that was set aside to for that Mediterranean cruise, is enough to make you think twice. It seems that partitioning helps provide a kind of rule or barrier that in order to continue presents a small, yet significant dilemma to help keep you committed to achieving your goals.
Cheema, A., & Soman, D. (2008). The effect of partitions on controlling consumption. Journal of Marketing Research, 45(6), 665-675. Retrieved from http://journals.ama.org/doi/abs/10.1509/jmkr.45.6.665
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2013). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (1 ed.). Crown Business.
Soman, D., & Cheema, A. (2011). Earmarking and partitioning: increasing saving by low-income households. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(SPL), S14-S22. Retrieved from http://journals.ama.org/doi/abs/10.1509/jmkr.48.SPL.S14
Richard Feenstra is an educational psychologist, with a focus on judgment and decision making.
Bobby Hoffman is the author of "Hack Your Motivation" and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Central Florida.