This paper aims to examine how, why and when incidental curiosity might have an influence on consumers’ unhealthy eating behaviors in a subsequent, irrelevant context.
Three experiments were conducted. Study 1 tested the basic main effect; Study 2 further tested the proposed process; Study 3 identified an important moderator and offered additional support for the mechanism.
Study 1 demonstrated the basic main effect that incidental curiosity increases consumers’ preference for unhealthy food. Study 2 replicated the effect in a simulated grocery-shopping task and further provided direct process evidence that a reward-approaching orientation underlies the effect of curiosity on unhealthy food choice. Finally, Study 3 identified information nature as an important moderator of the effect. That is, when people are curious about threatening information, they are likely to adopt an avoidance motivation, which prevents them from seeking any unhealthy food.
On the one hand, consumers could benefit from being educated that incidental exposure to curiosity cues might lead to unhealthy eating behaviors. On the other hand, public policymakers and responsible marketers should be mindful that, though widely used in marketing, the tactics that elicit consumers’ curiosity might sometimes backfire and undermine their healthy food choices.
This research contributes to the curiosity literature by demonstrating that incidental curiosity could have motivational impacts in the non-information domain, such as food choice. It also adds to the food decision literature by documenting incidental curiosity as an important situational factor of consumers’ food decisions.
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