Change Begets Change

September 25, 2009 BY danariely

Change Begets Change
This is how you put a positive spin on the recession.

In a new study, Moore School of Business marketing professor Stacy Wood suggests that it’s in times of upheaval that we’re particularly inclined to leave our comfort zone and try new things.

On first thought, this sounds counter-intuitive. You would think that upon losing our job or girlfriend, we’d be more intent on crawling under the sheets with a favorite book or movie and lying low for a while – not deciding that now’s the time to quit smoking or take up sky-diving.

And yet, these are the very kinds of challenges that we’re likely to take on following a big life change, according to Wood. In her study, she ran five related experiments comparing participants’ consumer choices with the degree of stability in their lives at the time.

In the initial experiment, for instance, she had undergrads take their pick between a pack of tried-and-true Lay’s potato chips and a bag of unfamiliar and odd-flavored British crisps (Camembert and plum, anyone?). Afterwards, she handed out a questionnaire that checked for the number of changes occurring in the participants’ lives. And the result? The students who chose the unusual chips were also more likely to be experiencing lots of change at the moment.

Wood later switched up the order of the questionnaire and consumer choice task in a follow-up experiment, and in another she also expanded the choice test to include a wide range of items – and still, the results were the same. When she asked participants to think about either two big life changes or eight, those who thought of more chose the strange chips more often.

It seems that when we are confronted with one disruption to our daily routine, we become more open to other change. Or, to put it differently, when things break, we enter the right mind-frame for breaking our old habits as well. According to Wood’s rationale, this is because once something pivotal in our routine gets switched around, we’re no longer so attached to all the other habits that formed our daily script.

When it comes to our recessionary times, then, it appears that now is a good time for us to embrace all kinds of change. A tighter budget or shorter hours at work might be that catalyst you need to reevaluate your daily shot of Starbucks espresso or your aversion toward exercise. To paraphrase President Obama, (and for somewhat different reasons) now’s the time to believe in change.