When times are tough and people are in a state of upheaval, it is expected that they might take refuge in “comfort foods” such as Grandma’s fried chicken or a Sonic milkshake? Not so, says Stacy L. Wood, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina. In fact, in a study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Woods found that when people are in a state of upheaval, they’re more likely to choose an unfamiliar food such as “camembert-and-plum crisps” from Britain rather than good old Lay’s potato chips. Wood’s study, in fact, went beyond comfort foods and looked at “familiar anything.” When individuals in her study were in more upheaval, they were more likely to download an unfamiliar song or jog in a new park. Her research has interesting implications for public policy. If, for example, the government is trying to get people to stop smoking or begin a new exercise program, a period of upheaval might be the time to do it. “That’s when people might be drawn naturally to different choices — not when things are status quo, but when things are already in a state of flux,” says Wood, an expert in how consumers respond to change.
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