Folly of Impatience are we there yet

Have you ever gone grocery shopping or to a restaurant when you were really hungry?  How did that work out for you?  Did you suffer the folly of impatience?

Hungry people order more food than they can eat.  They are experiencing the “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” effect.  This reaction is so common that you’ve likely experienced this kind of impatience before.  It is also a popular topic for academic researchers.  Studies show that hungry people buy more food than originally intended (Gilbert, Grill, and Wilson 2002; Nisbett and Kanouse 1969). Others reflect a stronger preference for candy over fruit (Read and van Leeuwen 1998).  Another shows that these people demonstrate less self-control (Kirk and Logue 1997).

Impatience vs Procrastination

Impatient overeating may only bring you brief stomach discomfort and modest anxiety from having lost self-control.  However, impatience can impact us in more negative ways.  It can lead us to make poor financial decisions or harm or destroy relationships.  It can also add to anxiety and even harm our health.  The impulse to obtain instant gratification can do more harm than good.  Indulging impatience can contribute more to self-imposed stress and unhappiness than the brief pleasure gained.

The parenthetical opposite of impatience is procrastination.  Whether from the paralysis of analysis or outright avoidance, constant procrastination can also cause anxiety.  Have you ever found yourself frantically trying to meet a deadline at the last minute?  Or waited so long that you missed an opportunity altogether?  Procrastination can foster disorder and clutter in one’s life as well as low self esteem.

Controlling the Minds of Consumers

In digging up information for this article, I found more than enough research on the cause and effect of impatience.  Apparently, there is and has been considerable interest by marketing and consumer behavioral academics about this topic.  And on the topic of procrastination, not much study at all.

Why do you think impatience is such a hot topic for research?

Among the many reasons for studying consumer behavior, it primarily helps business and political professionals improve their marketing strategy.  And impatience heads the list of consumer behavior topics.

One open source study I found was in the August 2005 Journal of Marketing Research.  Professors Chen, Ng and Rao endeavored to reinforce that people from Western cultures are less patient than from Eastern cultures.  While the research was insightful, I found more interesting the introduction they provided.  Words in [brackets] are my own:

“Whether and how people incorporate the future into their decision making about consumption options is a topic of considerable interest to scholars of marketing and consumer behavior from both a normative [what is commonly observed] and a descriptive [more detailed] standpoint.  Normatively, the time value of money is an integral component of standard economic prescriptions for consumption, investment, and expenditure decisions.  For example, according to the normative view, in general, people should prefer receiving money immediately rather than later because all future outcomes should be discounted positively [valued less].  Descriptively, research has examined precisely how the future is discounted and whether discount rates vary across situations and people. …

[Creating the Need For Instant Gratification to Promote Impatience]

Discounting the future is akin to displaying impatience.  A high discount rate implies that the future is considerably less important than the present, and people who employ high discount rates manifest relatively high levels of impatience, or the preference for instant rather than delayed gratification.  This impatience likely applies to the acquisition of not only money but also other material objects, and it is likely to be reflected in consumers’ (1) desire for quicker service and delivery of products, (2) greater preferences for options that offer early rather than late payoffs, and (3) enhanced willingness to pay for immediate rather than delayed gratification. Thus, the general issue of impatience is of substantial interest to marketing and consumer behavior.”

They are saying that the more impatient a consumer becomes, the more likely they will pay more for something.  As well, these consumers will settle for less quality or pay more for less.  Basically, impatience drives consumers to make poor financial decisions.

Sex Sells

So how do marketing professionals instigate impatience?  You’ve heard “sex sells”, right?

Another study in the September 2007 Journal of Consumer Research investigated this very topic.  Belgian Economics Professors Van denBergh, Dewitte and Warlop’s research paper says it all:  “Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice”.  I swear that I’m not making this stuff up!  

Intertemporal Choice?

By the way, “intertemporal choice” describes how people choose among two or more alternatives available at different points in time.  For example, should I save for a “rainy day” or spend my money now?

Now, let’s take a look at their introduction:

“Advertisers search for a way to break through the clutter by using sexually oriented appeals in marketing campaigns.  Previous research on the use of sexual imagery in advertising has focused on, among other things, consumer’s brand recall and recognition, appeal evaluation, attention, purchase intentions, and product perception.  The present study differs from earlier work by showing that the consequences of using sexual imagery extend further than the evaluation of the product or brand itself.  In line with previous research demonstrating that exposure to sexual cues influences economic decision making (e.g. Van den Bergh and Dewitte 2006; Wilson and Daly 2004), we will argue that exposure to sexual cues may affect decisions such as whether to purchase a less expensive item that can be enjoyed now or to save for a more expensive one.

…We propose that exposure to ‘hot stimuli’ (Metcalfe and Mischel 1999) leads to a non-specific time perspective collapse towards the present.  Based on recent neurological findings, suggesting that rewards are processed similarly in the brain, we propose that exposure to ‘hot stimuli’ may instigate general impatience in intertemporal choice.  We will argue that a greater appetite causes a greater urgency to consume anything rewarding.”

Impulsively Impatient Behavior

This research argues that sexual cues produce statistically significant results of inciting impulsively impatient behavior.  Among young heterosexual males, the effect was more mild, but remained similar to those of the other groups.

Now some of you might be saying:  I know that most advertising, political rhetoric and media coverage is manipulative .  But I don’t have time to labor every decision or read every message between the lines.  And that may be true.  However, constantly giving in to impatient behavior will likely form habits that can harm your pockets and your health.  How, you might say?

Impatience can vary in degree from one person to the next.  And the effect is often negative for the person displaying it as well as those around them.  Rather than entertain you with my own opinions, I’ll keep this in the realm of the research found.

Impatient People Remain Unemployed Longer

Let me begin with a study on how impatience impacts the unemployed.  In the July 2005 Journal of Labor Economics, researchers Della Vigna and Passerman presented a paper on “Job Search and Impatience”:

“How does impatience affect job search? More impatient workers search less intensively and set a lower reservation wage [minimum acceptable wage offer]… In this paper we show that, if agents have exponential time preferences, the reservation wage effect dominates for sufficiently patient individuals, so increases in impatience lead to higher exit rates [being unemployed longer]. The opposite is true for agents with hyperbolic time preferences: more impatient workers search less and exit unemployment later. Using two large longitudinal data sets, we find that various measures of impatience are negatively correlated with search effort and the exit rate from unemployment, and are orthogonal to reservation wages. Overall, impatience has a large effect on job search outcomes in the direction predicted by the hyperbolic discounting model.”

Simply put, the more impatient someone is, the more likely they will remain unemployed longer than a more patient person.

The next two studies focus on Type A personalities and how impatience impacts their ability for achievement and their health.

Type A People are not Necessarily Impatient People

“The Effects Of Type A Behavior Dimensions And Optimism On Coping Strategy, Health, And Performance” by Ashford, Jamieson and Lee.  Found in the March 1993 Journal of Organizational Behavior.

“Type A behavior dimensions and optimism were examined as predictors of health and performance.  In addition, this research also explored the ways that Type As and optimists cope with stressful situations.  The achievement striving dimension of the Type A behavior pattern and optimism were positively related to class performance, while the anger/hostility dimension was positively related to the health symptom of anxiety.  Optimism, on the other hand, was negatively related to anxiety.  The interaction of achievement striving and optimism was negatively related to anxiety.  Additionally, while achievement striving was positively related to problem-focused coping, irritability showed a negative association with problem-focused coping strategy.  The results of this study provide insights for both individuals and organizations regarding how to cope with daily stresses in order to lower health risks and improve performance.”

Achievement Striving vs Impatience-Irritability

“Impatience Versus Achievement Strivings In The Type A Pattern: Differential Effects On Students’ Health And Academic Achievement” by Helmreich, Pred and Spence.  Found in the November 1987 Journal of Applied Psychology.

“Psychometric analyses of college students’ responses to the Jenkins Activity Survey, a self-report measure of the Type A behavior pattern, revealed the presence of two relatively independent factors.  On the basis of these analyses, two scales, labeled Achievement Strivings (AS) and Impatience-Irritability (II), were developed.  In two samples of male and female college students, scores on AS but not on II were found to be significantly correlated with grade average. Responses to a health survey, on the other hand, indicated that frequency of physical complaints was significantly correlated with II but not with AS.  These results suggest that there are two relatively independent factors in the Type A pattern that have differential effects on performance and health.  Future research on the personality factors related to coronary heart disease and other disorders might more profitably focus on the syndrome reflected in the II scale than on the Type A pattern.”

It’s great to learn that Type A behavior is not synonymous with impatience!  However, it is troubling to learn of the correlation with impatience and poor performance, irritability, anxiety and other health issues.

Impatience in Investing

In the investment world, the most influential factors driving the decision-making process are the emotions of fear and greed.  These emotions, together with crowd behavior, can promote impatience in novice and experienced investors alike.

Have you ever made an investment or contemplated it?  If so, do you remember how you felt at the time?  Did you hesitate because the price was drifting lower or looked to be abundantly available?  Most people feel no urgency to act, under this scenario and exhibit great patience.  However, when the price begins to move up, most feel more compelled to act?  This is a pretty common trigger for creating impatience among investors called the “scarcity effect”.  However, this trigger can work against you if you haven’t done your homework or set your desired purchase price limit beforehand.

In my opinion, impatience makes the emotions of greed and fear work against you.  This belief comes from my observation that most of the great investors share one common characteristic – patience.  Take Warren Buffett for example.  His favorite saying has been:  “be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy”.  This is Buffett’s clever way to say that we should be buying when prices are low and selling when prices are high – basically investing contrary to the mentality of the crowd.

I always cringe when I read or hear market pundits promote “why it pays to be an impatient investor”.  What they don’t tell you is that that trading or trying to time the markets are the most challenging strategies to be successful at.  They might as well parade a bikini clad model with that ad.

Patience is a Virtue

Now I’m not advocating that my reader’s become procrastinators.  Procrastination has its drawbacks as well.  Yet, I thought it would be helpful to point out that patience can be more than a virtue.

As aptly worded by an anonymous Wiki-How contributor post:

“It has never been easy to be patient, but it’s probably even harder now than at any time in history.  In a world where messages can be sent across the world instantly, seemingly everything is available with a few clicks of the mouse, and a swift movement of your thumbs can take you into a fantasy game world, it’s very hard not to expect instant satisfaction.  But patience remains a valuable tool in life.  We don’t always get instant gratification, and some of the best things in life require years of hard work and waiting. 

Fortunately, patience can be cultivated and nurtured as a virtue .  It does take time to fulfill this goal.  But once this has grown into an ordinary skill for you, you certainly won’t be disappointed at what life can offer you with some spare time.  You will be surprised by how boring, restless, and lagging hours can evolve into a passing time of relaxation and peace of mind.”

About the Author

Henry V. Kaelber, CPA, CFP®, CGMA