Every day, people make many food decisions without thinking, repeatedly falling for the unhealthy option instead of the healthy option. While making these mindless decisions, people often rely on heuristics. In this paper, we demonstrate that these heuristics can be exploited to nudge consumers towards healthy alternatives. Specifically, we explore how the attraction effect (i.e., adding a decoy to a choice set) can nudge people to choose a healthy snack. The results of our choice experiment indicate that adding a decoy (i.e., a less attractive food alternative) to a self-control situation (i.e., choosing between a healthy and an unhealthy food alternative) can help people maintain self-control and choose the healthy option. This mixed choice set thus nudges people towards the healthy option. Moreover, our results show differential effects of the attraction effect depending on the (un)healthiness of the products in the choice set. Specifically, the attraction effect is prominent when the choice set consists of unhealthy products only (i.e., the unhealthy choice set), but not in the choice set that consists of only healthy products (i.e., healthy choice set). Importantly, our results indicate when the attraction effect can exploit consumers’ heuristics to help them make better, healthier food choices.
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