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Kaitlin Woolley

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Kaitlin Woolley

PhD Candidate in Behavioral Science

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business


Research Interests: Goals and Motivation, Consumer Behavior, Incentives, Decision Making

Kaitlin studies motivation using decision-making paradigms. Her primary focus is on intrinsic motivation and self-control in the context of consumer behavior. In her dissertation, she focuses on understanding what consumers value when pursuing their goals and identifies strategies for motivating consumers’ goal persistence. In her other research projects, she studies consumer choice in the context of intuitive-deliberative conflicts as well as the role of food consumption in social connection.

Journal Publications

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach (forthcoming), "A Recipe for Friendship: Similar Food Consumption Promotes Trust and Cooperation," Journal of Consumer Psychology. [View PDF]

This research examines the consequences of incidental food consumption for trust and cooperation. We find that strangers who are assigned to eat similar (vs. dissimilar) foods are more trusting of each other in a trust game (Study 1). Food consumption further influences conflict resolution, with strangers who are assigned to eat similar foods cooperating more in a labor negotiation, and therefore earning more money (Study 2). The role of incidental food similarity on increased trust extends to the product domain. Consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products (e.g., a software product) when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them (Study 3). Lastly, we find evidence that food serves as a particularly strong cue of trust compared with other incidental similarity. People perceive that pairs eating similar foods, but not pairs wearing similar colored shirts, are more trusting of one another (Study 4). We discuss theoretical and practical implications of this work for improving interactions between strangers, and for marketing products.

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach (forthcoming), "Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. [View PDF]

People primarily pursue long-term goals, such as exercising and studying, in order to receive delayed rewards (e.g., improved health and higher grades). However, we find that the presence of immediate rewards, rather than delayed rewards, predicts persistence in goal-related activities. Immediate rewards (e.g., enjoyment) more strongly predict current persistence at New Year's resolutions than do delayed rewards (Study 1). Further, immediate rewards are stronger predictors of persistence in a single session of studying and exercising than are delayed rewards, even though people report primarily pursuing these activities for their delayed rewards (Studies 2-3). Lastly, we demonstrate that immediate rewards more strongly predict persistence in healthy habits (exercise and healthy eating) than do delayed rewards, both over short and long time frames (Study 4). Thus whereas delayed rewards may motivate goal setting and the intentions to pursue long-term goals, immediate rewards are more strongly associated with actual goal pursuit.

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach (2016), "For the Fun of It: Harnessing Immediate Rewards to Increase Persistence in Long-Term Goals," Journal of Consumer Research, 42 (6), 952-66. [View PDF]

Pursuing personal goals for delayed rewards (e.g., exercising to improve health) often provides consumers with immediate rewards (e.g., a fun workout) in addition to the delayed rewards they receive. With regard to health and academic goals, we find that attending to the immediate rewards of health and academic activities increases persistence in these activities to a greater extent than attending to delayed rewards, even though these activities are selected for the delayed rewards they provide. Specifically, bringing immediate rewards into activity choice-for example, having participants choose the most enjoyable rather than the most useful exercise or the tastier rather than healthier bag of carrots-increases persistence and consumption. Similarly, adding external immediate rewards to activity pursuit-for example, playing music in a high school classroom-increases persistence. Across these studies, immediate rewards are stronger predictors of activity persistence than delayed rewards. This research suggests that marketers and consumers can harness immediate rewards to increase persistence in long-term goals.

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach (2015), "The Experience Matters More Than You Think: People Value Intrinsic Incentives More Inside Than Outside an Activity," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109 (6), 968-82. [View PDF]

We document a shift in the value assigned to intrinsic incentives: people value these incentives more inside an activity than outside the activity (i.e., during vs. before or after pursuit). For example, people care more about the level of interest of their present work task than of past or future work tasks. We document this shift across a variety of activities (exercising, visiting a museum, and lab tasks) and using various measures, including rated importance of intrinsic incentives inside and outside pursuit, actual and planned persistence on activities that offer these incentives, and regret when choosers outside pursuit forgo intrinsic incentives that pursuers later seek. This shift in valuation occurs because intrinsic incentives improve the experience during action pursuit, and therefore, this shift is unique to intrinsic incentives. Extrinsic incentives, by contrast, are valued similarly inside and outside pursuit.

Fishbach, Ayelet and Kaitlin Woolley (2015), "Avoiding Ethical Temptations," Current Opinion in Psychology, 6, 36-40. [View PDF]

This article offers a self-control framework for understanding when people resist ethical temptations. We propose that two factors contribute to a person's ability to overcome the temptation to engage in unethical behavior: first, the identification of an ethical dilemma and second, the exercise of self-control to overcome temptation. We review factors involved in identifying ethical dilemmas - broad decision frame (bracket), psychological connectedness, and high self-diagnosticity - and factors that facilitate responding with self-control - advanced warning of temptation and the employment of self-control strategies. We discuss implications for increasing ethical decisions.


Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach (2016), “When Intrinsic Motivation and Immediate Rewards Overlap,” in The Motivation-Cognition Interface; From the Lab to the Real World, ed. Catalina Kopetz and Ayelet Fishbach, Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis. [View PDF]

Kruglanski et al. (2002) proposed that an activity (i.e., a means) is intrinsically motivated when it coincides with its goal (i.e., the reward for pursuing it). Based on this observation, we provide a framework for understanding intrinsic motivation using insights from research on immediate and delayed rewards. We explore the parallels between intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation and immediate (vs. delayed) rewards and present support for three propositions. First, intrinsic (but not extrinsic) rewards are valued more in the present than with a temporal delay. For example, people value learning new things more in their present job than in previous and future jobs. Second, immediate rewards render the experience of an activity as more intrinsic. For example, receiving an immediate (vs. delayed) bonus payment increases the motivation to engage in a task during a free choice phase. Third, by increasing intrinsic motivation, immediate rewards increase persistence. For example, focusing on the positive taste of healthy food increases consumption compared with focusing on the delayed health benefits.

Fishbach, Ayelet and Kaitlin Woolley (2016), "Combatting Temptation to Promote Health and Well-Being," in The Handbook of Self-Control in Health and Well-Being, ed. de Ridder, Denise T. D., Marieke A. Adriaanse, and Kentaro Fujita, London: Routledge Press. [View PDF]

This chapter explores when pursuing good health and well-being requires combatting temptation, and the self-control process that enables success. We start by highlighting situations in which people consider the immediate rewards received during goal pursuit and are thereby able to adhere to their health goals without using self-control. We then move to situations in which people rely on self-control. We analyze the self-control response as a two-step process that requires first the identification and then the resolution of a self-control conflict. We discuss strategies that help facilitate conflict identification and the resolution of the self-control conflict.

Papers in Preparation

Woolley, Kaitlin and Jane L. Risen, "Avoiding Information to Protect a Strong Intuitive Preference."

Classic decision theory suggests that more (relevant) information is better. But people sometimes choose to remain ignorant. The current paper examines information avoidance that occurs when a strong intuitive preference comes into conflict with a desire to behave in a future-oriented or financially rational manner. We predict that people will avoid information that encourages them to make a thoughtful, deliberative decision in order to protect their intuitive preference. We find that participants avoid nutritional information when they are tempted to order dessert (Study 1) and avoid learning their payment for working on a boring task when choosing between the boring task and a fun task (Study 2). In both studies, when information is provided, it influences participants’ decisions – even for those who do not want the information. Thus, people are avoiding information that they deem relevant. In Studies 3-6, participants decide whether to learn how much money they could earn by accepting an intuitively-unappealing bet (that a sympathetic student performs poorly or that a hurricane hits a third-world country). Although intuitively-unappealing, the bets are financially rational because they only have financial upside. If people avoid information to protect their intuitive preference, then avoidance should be more likely when an intuitive preference is especially strong and when information could influence the decision. As predicted, avoidance is driven by the strength of the intuitive preference (Study 3) and, ironically, information is avoided more when a decision has not yet been made than when it has already been made (Studies 4-5).

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach, "Immediate Rewards Render Activities More Intrinsically Motivating."

Although intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation and immediate (vs. delayed) rewards comprise separate areas of research and have typically been studied independently, we argue there is overlap between these phenomena. Specifically, we explore the hypothesis that immediate (vs. delayed) rewards increase intrinsic motivation. In support of the hypothesis, we find that describing rewards from exercising and visiting a museum as arriving sooner in time led participants to perceive these activities as more intrinsically motivating (Studies 1a-1b). Further, more immediately rewarding a task increased intrinsic motivation (Study 2) and continued task engagement after the reward was removed (Study 3). Immediate rewards have a unique effect on intrinsic motivation; they increase intrinsic but not extrinsic motivation (Study 4). In addition, whereas timing influences intrinsic motivation, the magnitude of the reward does not (Study 5).

Woolley, Kaitlin, Jane L. Risen, and Ann L. McGill, "Sharing Deal Purchases to Signal Competence." Under revision.

Typically, displaying wealth has been considered a way to signal status, suggesting that consumers would want to talk about high-price purchases rather than those for which they saved money. But, while previous research has focused on gaining status through the ownership of expensive goods, we explore how the process of acquiring goods at less than full price can also reflect positively on consumers. Specifically, we predict saving money can signal competence, leading consumers to highlight deals over full price purchases. Across six studies we examine when consumers are more likely to generate word-of-mouth (WOM) for purchases made on deal than at full price. This increase in WOM emerges for real and hypothetical purchases for both on-going and expired deals at a range of prices ($1-$3,000), and is mediated by the extent to which consumers expect others will view them as competent. The desire to signal competence leads to increased WOM for deal purchases, even when consumers do not expect others will perceive them as warm. In addition, the increase in WOM for deals is moderated by consumer knowledge and agency. We discuss theoretical implications for when consumers may want to highlight versus hide purchases and practical implications for increasing WOM.

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach, "When Rivals Eat Together: Serving Food on a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation." In preparation.

Can consuming food from a shared plate (e.g., family style), as opposed to eating individual servings, improve cooperation? Whereas sharing a food source may potentially lead to competition due to resource scarcity, we predict and find that having to coordinate food consumption improves cooperation. Opponents eating food off shared (vs. separate) plates were more cooperative in social dilemmas, including a negotiation task and a Prisoner’s Dilemma game (Studies 1-2). Consumption from shared plates only increased cooperation with food partners, with no carryover effect when working with a new partner (Study 3), and increased people’s expectations for successful future coordination with their partner (Study 4). Overall, coordinating food consumption is a subtle way to boost cooperation between individuals.

Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach, "Recruiter-Candidate Asymmetry in the Valuation of Intrinsic Motivation." In preparation.

Across five studies, we demonstrate a recruiter-candidate asymmetry in the valuation of intrinsic motivation for hiring decisions. Recruiters value intrinsic motivation in job candidates more than job candidates expect. In contrast, candidates correctly predict how much recruiters value extrinsic motivation (Studies 1-2). This asymmetry is driven by candidates’ underestimation of how much recruiters value receiving intrinsic incentives for their own work (Study 3), consistent with past research (Heath 1999; Woolley and Fishbach 2015). As a consequence, candidates choose less persuasive job pitches when promoting themselves (Study 4) and fail to express their intrinsic motivation during interviews (Study 5).

Selected Research in Progress

  • "Implicit Nature of Information Avoidance," with Jane Risen

  • "Preference for Financially Suboptimal Choice Sets," with Shannon White and Jane Risen

  • "Bypassing Self-Control in Goal Pursuit," with Ayelet Fishbach

  • References

    Ayelet Fishbach (Committee Chair)

    University of Chicago

    Phone: (773) 834-8673


    Jane L. Risen

    University of Chicago

    Phone: (773) 834-2187


    Ann L. McGill

    University of Chicago

    Phone: (773) 702-7448


    Oleg Urminsky

    University of Chicago

    Phone: (773) 834-4710