If you’re stuck working late and vending-machine junk food is your only option for dinner, go ahead — it could boost your productivity. This quirk comes from how our brains handle the consumption of things considered vices. Physical or mental “junk food” — eating a brownie or reading a tabloid magazine — gives us a boost in what social scientists call vitality. In lay terms, vitality basically means feeling more energized, with improvements to creativity and self-control. But the effects are blunted by the guilt we feel after indulging. In a forthcoming "Journal of Consumer Research" paper, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Ph.D student Fangyuan Chen and business professor Jaideep Sengupta discovered that when people indulge when they think they don’t have a choice, the guilt goes away. In an experiment, subjects who were told to eat a brownie performed better on subsequent tests than those who ate a brownie but had the choice of eating carrots instead.
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-Martha C. White, NBC News contributor