Imagine dining out with a friend and they insist on sharing a thick slice of chocolate cake with you. You are watching your weight for example and would normally feel guilty in indulging but because the decision has been made for you, you gladly scoop the delicious chocolate into your mouth without any regret. Consumers are happier when someone else decides for them when it comes to indulging in dessert or other guilty pleasures according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“Most of us don’t like being forced to do things. The freedom to make our own decisions generally energizes us and increases our sense of well-being. However, when it comes to purchasing and consuming products normally associated with feelings of guilt, reducing someone’s sense of free choice could ultimately boost their overall well-being,” write authors Fangyuan Chen and Jaideep Sengupta, both from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

In one of the studies conducted, a group of consumers were asked to read either an educational or entertaining book. They were either able to choose it by themselves or just given one of the books to read. What the study found out is that those consumers who read an educational book experienced equal levels of guilt, vitality and creativity regardless of whether they were given the book or chose it freely. However, consumers that were given an entertaining book to read experienced less guilt and much higher vitality and creativity compared to those who had chosen it freely.

These results can be used by those companies that offer very luxurious products to help the consumers deflect their spending decisions and habits allowing them to feel better by splurging on expensive products. It can also help businesses that sell indulgent items like unhealthy desserts and help the consumer enjoy their guilty pleasures. Consumers will feel less guilt and enjoy themselves more if the responsibility of the said indulgence is taken away.

“In an effort to avoid punishment, children will say someone else ‘made them’ break the rules. As it turns out, this evasion of responsibility also works surprisingly well for adults and may carry substantial benefits for consumers,” the authors conclude.