The Licensing Effect and the Unhealthy Habit of Vitamin Supplements

The licens­ing effect is the phe­nomen­on whereby pos­it­ive actions or decisions taken now increase neg­at­ive or uneth­ic­al decisions taken later. I’ve writ­ten about this pre­vi­ously, before I was aware of a gen­er­al effect:

A Taiwanese study has provided us with a new instance of the licens­ing effect in action, this time with vit­am­in sup­ple­ments. The study found that tak­ing vit­am­in pills or diet­ary sup­ple­ments for health pro­tec­tion increases unhealthy and risky beha­viour.

After­wards, com­pared with placebo par­ti­cipants, the par­ti­cipants who thought they’d taken a vit­am­in pill rated indul­gent but harm­ful activ­it­ies like cas­u­al sex and excess­ive drink­ing as more desir­able; healthy activ­it­ies like yoga as less desir­able; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buf­fet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organ­ic meal (these asso­ci­ations held even after con­trolling for par­ti­cipants’ usu­al intake of vit­am­in pills). […]

The vit­am­in-takers also felt more invul­ner­able than the placebo par­ti­cipants, as revealed by their agree­ment with state­ments like “Noth­ing can harm me”. Fur­ther ana­lys­is sug­ges­ted that it was these feel­ings of invul­ner­ab­il­ity that medi­ated the asso­ci­ation between tak­ing a pos­tu­lated vit­am­in pill and the unhealthy atti­tudes and decisions.

Busi­nes­s­Week also points out that this loop of bene­vol­ent and self-indul­gent beha­viour is plainly evid­ent in the shop­ping habits of con­sumers… some­thing that mar­keters know all about.

via @vaughanbell