Study: We buy and eat more due to thoughts of death post 9/11

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The following are the results of a study conducted by the ASU W. P. Carey School of Business:

TEMPE - A new study shows that thoughts of death and mortality prompt people to buy and eat more food, in order to achieve a level of escapism. The study was conducted by Associate Professor Naomi Mandel of Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business and Associate Professor Dick Smeesters of Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Americans started to engage in excessive consumption, buying up luxury goods, eating lots of sweets, bargain shopping and more practically, stocking up on canned goods. Mandel and Smeesters were intrigued by this and wanted to determine whether thoughts of death had a direct effect on people's desires to eat and consume.

Through a series of "sweet escape" experiments published in this month's "Journal of Consumer Research," they found people who are reminded of their own mortality want to purchase and eat more food than others. This is especially true for those with low self-esteem, who likely want to escape from self-awareness.

"I had originally thought that thinking about death might push people to try more variety in products or to switch brands, but they really wound up choosing more stuff overall," says Mandel. " People with low self-esteem want to escape from self-awareness. They don't want to confront the fact that they don't live up to cultural standards, and one way to do that is through overeating or over-consumption."

In one experiment, Mandel and Smeesters asked one group of students to write an essay about death and another group to write about a painful procedure at the doctor's office. Then, both groups were asked to choose items from a grocery list to buy. The group that wrote about death selected many more items from the food list.

In a similar experiment, students were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to gauge self-esteem; then they were randomly assigned to write either a death or doctor's visit essay. The students then all participated in a staged cookie-tasting test. During the test, students who had written about death ate far more cookies than the others. This was especially true for the students with low self-esteem.

The new study has implications for marketing professionals and consumers. For example, it makes sense for marketers to place food ads during TV shows like "CSI" and the nightly news. Mandel also recommends not eating or creating your shopping list while watching horror movies or violent shows, so you don't overindulge.

For a longer article on the study, go to .