UH Bauer Professor Finds Ways To Help Consumers Say ‘No’

Published on March 27, 2012

Empowering language helps avoid temptation, Prof. Patrick Says

In order to overcome temptation, Prof. Patrick says, consumers need to change their vocabulary from “can’t” to “don’t.”

Research by a professor at the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business reveals that language is a powerful tool in resisting temptation.

Vanessa M. Patrick, a Bauer marketing professor, found that consumers are more empowered when they say “I don’t” than “I can’t.”

The findings by Patrick and Boston College professor Henrik Hagtvedt will be published in the August 2012 issue of Journal of Consumer Research.

“We have used four studies to show that framing your refusals using the empowering words ‘I don’t’ is more effective than using the deprived words ‘I can’t,’” Patrick said in a recent interview.

* “I don’t eat chocolate cake in the middle of the day.”

* “I don’t do fast-food drive-ins.”

* “I don’t take the elevator.”

“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,” Patrick and Hagtvedt wrote in their paper.

With repeated use, empowering words “become part of us,” Patrick said, “and we are more likely to be able to stick with our resolutions over time.”

On the other hand, framing feelings with “I can’t,” she said, “signals deprivation” and “makes you feel really bad.”

Patrick, an expert on consumer behavior, has worked as a consultant to companies like the Coca-Cola Company, CNN and Hallmark.

“All marketers have an eye on the consumer,” the Bauer associate professor said.

But not all marketing is about selling products.

“My area of research tends to focus more on consumer well-being,” Patrick said, “and that involves, particularly, how to deal with temptation, how to enhance self-control, how to be a better consumer.”

“What’s great about this research is that it suggests a strategy that is simple, straightforward, and easy to implement,” Patrick and Hagtvedt concluded in their report, “‘I Don’t’ versus ‘I Can’t’: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior.”

“And most importantly…it works!”

By Wendell Brock

Prof. Patrick’s Research in the Media