Dates: 2019-2022
Identifier: PGC2018-093821-B-I00. Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación de España (FEDER, MICINN).

About the project

Recently, the psychosocial effects of the scarcity of economic resources as a result of the international economic crisis have been investigated. These effects include an increase in risk behaviors related to health. The negative consequences of scarcity have been explained by individual differences (e.g., personality traits) and environmental factors (e.g., access to resources), but now, a new explanation in terms of thinking style has been added.

In this project, we investigate whether an abstract thinking style focused on long-term goals is a relevant factor in promoting health and well-being. Previous research has demonstrated a relationship between an abstract thinking style and greater self-control; this link favors healthy decision-making by relating greater self-control with behaviors associated to positive long-term consequences, even when they have immediate costs (e.g., playing sports promotes health in the long term but is costly in the short term). At the same time, this abstract thinking style reduces the occurrence of risky behaviors that are usually associated with positive short-term and negative long-term consequences (e.g., the consumption of sugary drinks, which are pleasant to the palate but are harmful to one’s health in the long term). With this theoretical framework, we assess whether thinking with a more abstract style encourages healthy behaviors and discourages risky behaviors when people are in a situation of economic scarcity (populations in situations with great vulnerability). In the development of this project, we used correlational and experimental studies. By combining dispositional measures and experimental manipulations of both economic scarcity and thinking style, we explored the links among an abstract mindset, healthy and risky behaviors and well-being. We included different study populations (university students and members of the general population) in real or simulated situations of economic scarcity.

The final objective of this project is to explore whether an abstract thinking style is a protective factor in choosing healthier behaviors, which is especially important in populations with limited economic resources. Identifying the role that an abstract thinking style plays in behavioral decision-making in populations at economic risk will enable the development of more effective interventions for promoting healthier behaviors and greater well-being.

Our research has revealed that individuals present a more concrete style when they are under economic scarcity (real or induced). This concrete mindset promotes more risky behaviors (e.g., to drink alcohol, to snack on sugary products). Results showed that an abstract construal level reversed the effect of scarcity promoting healthier behaviors and greater well-being. Because an abstract construal level can be induced following different procedures even in natural settings, our findings open up challenging ways to improve the conditions in which people in scarcity contexts make behavioral decisions.

Key words: construal level, scarcity, risk behavior, well-being, helping