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Self-Control Difficult When Thinking of Others

Self-Control Difficult When Thinking of OthersWe all know that exerting self-control is a difficult task that can be exhausting. In fact, research has found that using self-control in one situation impairs our ability to use self-control in subsequent, even unrelated, situations.

What about thinking of other people exerting self-control?

Earlier research has shown that imagining actions can cause the same reactions as if we were actually performing them (e.g., simulating eating a disgusting food results in a revolting face, even if no food has been eaten).

In a new study, psychologists explored what effect thinking about other people’s self-control has on our own thoughts and behavior.

Participants were presented with a story about a hungry waiter who was surrounded by delicious food, but was not allowed to sample any, for fear of being fired. Half of the participants simply read the story and the other half were told to imagine themselves in the waiter’s shoes.

Next, all of the participants were shown images of mid- to high-priced items (e.g., cars and TVs) and were to indicate how much they would pay for them.

In a followup experiment, some of the participants read the same story and others read a similar story in which the waiter was not hungry and did not have to use self-control. Just as in the first experiment, some of the participants read the story while others imagined themselves as the waiter.

All of these volunteers then participated in a word game and a memory task.

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that the participants who imagined themselves in the waiter’s position were more willing to spend greater amounts of money on the luxury items — they had exhausted their capacity for self-control and restraint, leading them to spend more money.

In the followup experiment, the volunteers who read and imagined the story of the waiter who was not hungry performed much better on the word game and memory task. Overall, the group that imagined themselves as the waiter from the original story, who exercised self-control and did not eat any food, performed the worst on the word game and memory tasks.

These findings suggest that our own self-control can be worn out simply by mentally simulating another person acting with self-control. The authors note, for example, that imagining someone else’s self-control “could result in small breakdowns of self-control, such as employees speaking out improperly during a meeting, to catastrophic ones, such as police officers responding to an emotionally charged encounter with deadly force.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Self-Control Difficult When Thinking of Others

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Self-Control Difficult When Thinking of Others. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2009/04/07/self-control-difficult-when-thinking-of-others/5188.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.