Time Window as a Self-Control Denominator: Shorter Windows Shift Preference Toward Virtues and Longer Windows Toward Vices



When planning future consumption, individuals are known to opt for large virtue quantities and small vice quantities as a means of self-control. We argue that such planning may also involve the time window within which a given quantity needs to be consumed because the final objective is to plan for a desired consumption rate (i.e., quantity/time window)—a high virtue rate and a low vice rate. Five studies reveal that, holding quantity constant, a short window (i.e., high rate) nudges individuals toward virtues, and a long window (i.e., low rate) toward vices. We find this effect for hypothetical and real virtue-vice choices, preferences, and willingness to extend a time window. Furthermore, these effects are mediated by the pursuit of long-term health goals; and are moderated such that the effect of time windows is stronger for those who need more help in meeting their self-control goals: impulsive individuals. While these effects are consistent with self-control, we discuss a blend of mechanisms that may be working in conjunction, particularly at the stage that we focus on: planning rather than consuming. Our results offer strong theoretical implications and important consequences for the marketplace where expiration periods and other time windows are ubiquitous.