Getting your work done and even just chatting with your friends on Facebook or Twitter are harder desires for Germans to resist than drinking or smoking, according to a paper presented at Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual meeting in San Diego last week.
Researchers found the hardest desires to resist were either technology-driven — such as checking in with our friends on Facebook or surfing the web for specific information — or goal-directed activities, such as finishing up a project for work or school.
“Desires for media like watching television, surfing the Internet, using your iPhone, and our desire to work — that is, the intrinsic desire to get your work done —these are the hardest to resist,” said Wilhelm Hofmann, Ph.D., a behavioral science professor at the University of the Chicago.
The researchers studied the willpower of 205 adults ages 18 to 55 in the new study, checking in with them through a study-provided smartphone seven times a day to see if they were currently experiencing or recently experienced a desire or urge. Researchers assessed the kind of desire experience as well as its severity, and asked if the subject resisted or submitted to their desire. The study was conducted in and around the German city of Würtzburg, so it’s unclear whether the findings generalize to other countries or Americans.
Researchers collected 10,558 responses and 7,827 episodes where an urge or desire were reported.
It turns out that while sleep was a powerful desire for many subjects, it was easy to resist because there are few opportunities to sleep outside of the house. Other easy desires to resist include sexual urges, and spending impulses.
The hardest desires to control were ones dealing with our interactions with technology. It is especially hard for people to resist the desire to work even when it conflict with other goals such as socializing or leisure activities because “work can define people’s identities, dictate many aspects of daily life, and invoke penalties if important duties are shirked.”
Hofmann suggested that the desires for media may be harder to resist because of its high availability and also because it “feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist,” he told one media outlet.
Drinking and smoking, on the other hand, are not readily available to most people throughout the day, and they come with higher costs, both financially and socially.
“With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs — long-term as well as monetary — and the opportunity may not always be the right one. Even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”
The best ways to resist undesirable urges said Hofmann is to not overindulge while drinking alcoholic beverages, and avoid being with or watching others participate in tempting activities.
The study also found that that as the day wore on, willpower lessened. This suggests it would be wiser not to make any big purchases later in the day, and to avoid behaviors which may lessen one’s willpower or inhibitions further.
Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology