Some food items that are commonly considered unhealthy also tend to elicit impulsive responses. The pain of paying in cash can curb impulsive urges to purchase such unhealthy food products. Credit card payments, in contrast, are relatively painless and weaken impulse control. Consequently, consumers are more likely to buy unhealthy food products when they pay by credit card than when they pay in cash. Results from four studies support these hypotheses. Analysis of actual shopping behavior of 1,000 households over a period of 6 months revealed that shopping baskets have a larger proportion of food items rated as impulsive and unhealthy when shoppers use credit or debit cards to pay for the purchases (study 1). Follow-up experiments (studies 2–4) show that the vice-regulation effect of cash payments is mediated by pain of payment and moderated by chronic sensitivity to pain of payment. Implications for consumer welfare and theories of impulsive consumption are discussed.
Thomas, M., Desai, K. K., &Seenivasan, S. (2010). How credit card payments increase unhealthy food purchases: Visceral regulation of vices. Journal of consumer research, 38(1), 126-139.