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Kaitlin Woolley

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Kaitlin Woolley

Ph. D. Candidate in Behavioral Science

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business


Research Interests: Motivation, Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, Management

Kaitlin studies motivation using decision-making paradigms. Her primary focus is on intrinsic motivation and self-control in the context of consumer behavior. She also studies the role of joint food consumption in improving negotiations and advertisements. In another line of research, she explores information avoidance that is driven by a desire to protect a tempting, intuitive preference.

Journal Articles

For the Fun of It: Harnessing Immediate Rewards to Increase Persistence in Long-term Goals.

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, Journal of Consumer Research, 2016

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.

The Experience Matters More Than You Think: People Value Intrinsic Incentives More Inside Than Outside an Activity

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2015

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.

Avoiding Ethical Temptations

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Woolley, Current Opinion in Psychology, 2015

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.


Harnessing Immediate Rewards to Increase Intrinsic Motivation.

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, The Motivation-Cognition Interface; From the Lab to the Real World. A Festschrift in Honor of Arie W. Kruglanski, Catalina Kopetz and Ayelet Fishbach eds., forthcoming

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.

Combatting Temptation to Promote Health and Well-being

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Woolley, Handbook of Self-Control in Health and Well-being, Denise T. D. de Ridder, Marieke A. Adriaanse, and Kentaro Fujita, forthcoming

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 Under Review

A Recipe for Friendship: Similar Food Consumption Promotes Trust and Cooperation

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, under review

This research examines the consequences of incidental food consumption for trust and cooperation. We find that people are more trusting of a stranger in a trust game when they are assigned to consume similar (vs. dissimilar) food as the stranger (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. When consumers eat the same food as product advertisers, they are more trusting of product information (Study 3). Lastly, we find evidence that food serves as a strong cue for trust compared with other incidental similarity. People perceive higher levels of trust between pairs eating similarly, but not when pairs wear similar colored shirts (Study 4). We discuss theoretical and practical implications of this work for improving interactions between strangers and for marketing products.

Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, under review

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.

Working Papers

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

  • Woolley, Kaitlin, Jane L. Risen, and Ann L. McGill, "Word-of-Mouth for Deal Purchases: Signaling Competence While Saving Money."

  • Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach, "Having Fun Now: Immediate Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation."

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

  • Woolley, Kaitlin and Ayelet Fishbach, "Undervaluing Intrinsic Incentives at Work."

  • 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