Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/What the hell effect

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What the hell effect:
What is the WTHE and what are its consequences?

Overview[edit | edit source]


"Gunilla found the beautiful formal dress she wanted for the prom, but she needed to lose some weight. Her friend, fresh from a social psychology course, recommended that she set a specific, daily caloric goal. On the third day, after eating a serving of "light" spaghetti, Gunilla read the package and realised that she was slightly over her daily goal. Her response was interesting: She said to herself, "What-the-hell. Since I'm already over my goal it doesn't matter what I eat." And she proceeded to consume half of her mom's apple pie." - Cochran & Tesser, 1996

We have all fallen victim to scenarios such as the one detailed in the example box above. All of us cheat in some way, whether it be sneaking an extra cookie, spending a bit too much money online or having a cheeky glance at some notes during an exam. We are all humans who make mistakes and experience lapses in motivation at some point, but it is the point at which we throw the whole book out the window and say "what-the-hell!", and proceed to finish the rest of the box of cookies, spend the rest of our pay check or cheat throughout the rest of the exam, where the behaviour can become unhealthy.

Focus questions:

  • What is the what the hell effect?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How can we prevent the what the hell effect from occurring?
  • What are some directions for future research?

What is the WTHE?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Once you have cheated on your diet a little, by having a serving of fries for example, it is easier to overindulge a lot, by saying "what the hell!" and ordering a burger as well.
  • Cycle of indulging, feeling guilty and then doubling down because why the hell not?!
  • Thinking in all or none terms
  • It is important to understand the reasons why people fail, what people perceive as failure, and what they do when they fail. When we have an understanding of this we can workout how to prevent these occurrences, and what makes people more susceptible.
  • Studying the what the hell effect helps us produce more successful outcomes when reducing or increasing certain behaviours

Origin[edit | edit source]

  • Janet Polivy & Peter Herman study
    • 1983: A Boundary Model for the Regulation of Eating.
    • "After a large preload, however, the dieter perceives that the boundary has been transgressed, and since the boundary itself is cognitive, thinking is all that matters. If the dieter perceives that, after a "high-calorie" preload, he is "to the right" of the diet boundary, there is no point in restraining further consumption since the purpose of such restraint (maintaining diet goals) has been undercut."
    • 2010: Getting a bigger slice of the pie. Effects on eating and emotion in restrained and unrestrained eaters
      • study of 106 female undergraduate university students

Common applications[edit | edit source]

  • Although the effect is easily observable in dieting applications and provides a clear cut, observational example for easy explanation, the what the hell effect can surface in almost any area of life
  • Although studies have been traditionally applied to cheating in terms of dieting and food consumption, the what the hell effect can also apply to 'cheating' in terms of behaviours associated with eating, smoking, drinking, shopping, spending as well as cheating in both the academic and adultery sense
  • Once you've cheated a bit, you're much more likely to cheat a lot

What are the consequences?[edit | edit source]

  • Guilt & shame
  • Relapse or perceived loss of control

How can we prevent the WTHE from occurring?[edit | edit source]

  • Set realistic goals
  • Normalise setbacks

What are some directions for future research?[edit | edit source]

  • Limited research on this specific motivation topic currently exists
  • The research that does exist focuses on mostly on situational antecedents associated
  • Future research could focus on cognitions and emotions in response to failure, individual differences and effects of the WTHE on subsequent behaviour (Zemack-Rugar et al, 2010)

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Cochran, W., & Tesser, A. (1996). The" what the hell" effect: Some effects of goal proximity and goal framing on performance.

Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (1983). A boundary model for the regulation of eating.

Polivy, J., Herman, C. P., & Deo, R. (2010). Getting a bigger slice of the pie. Effects on eating and emotion in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite, 55(3), 426-430.

Zemack-Rugar, Y., Corus, C., & Brinberg, D. (2010). The" What the Hell Effect" Scale: Measuring Post-Failure Sequential Self-Control Choice Tendencies. ACR North American Advances.

External links[edit | edit source]