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Disciplined Friends Can Help Individuals Improve Self-Control

Disciplined Friends Can Help Individuals Improve Self-Control New research suggests self-discipline is improved when an individual is surrounded by friends who display strong resolve.

Duke University investigators found that people with low self-control prefer and depend on people with high self-control, possibly as a way to make up for the skills they themselves lack.

“We all know how much effort it takes to overcome temptation,” said Catherine Shea, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychologist Dr. Gráinne Fitzsimons’s lab.

“People with low self-control could relieve a lot of their self-control struggles by being with an individual who helps them.”

To test this prediction, Shea and her colleagues conducted two lab-based studies and one study with real-life romantic partners.

In the first study, participants were asked to watch a video. The researchers experimentally manipulated participants’ self-control by asking one group to avoid reading words that flashed up on the screen during the video (depleting their self-control), while giving no such instructions to the other group.

Each participant then read a vignette about one of three office managers — one who demonstrated low self-control behavior, one who demonstrated high self-control behavior, and one who demonstrated both high and low self-control behaviors. The participants then rated the office managers on their leadership abilities.

The results were clear: When people were temporarily depleted of their self-control, they rated the manager who had high self-control more positively than the two other managers.

Researchers believe the findings suggest that participants seemed to compensate for their own lack of self-control by valuing it in others.

A second study confirmed these results: People who demonstrated low trait self-control on a standard self-control task also showed a preference for the manager with high self-control.

In the third study, the researchers tested their hypothesis using survey data from 136 romantic couples. Again, the data confirmed the hypothesis: Individuals who reported having low self-control also reported greater dependence on their partner if the partner happened to have high self-control.

Researchers believe the findings show that the phenomenon isn’t just lab-based, it also extends to real-world relationships.

“Self-control, by its name and definition, is a ‘self’ process — something that we do alone, as individuals,” observes Shea. “Yet, when we order food on a menu or go to work, we’re often surrounded by other people.”

Experts say the findings are novel because previous research has typically focused on the downsides of low self-control, such as poorer academic achievement and health outcomes.

But this new research suggests that individuals who lack self-control may actually have a unique skill: the ability to pick up on self-control cues in others and use those cues to form adaptive relationships.

“What we have shown is that low self-control individuals seem to implicitly surround themselves with individuals who can help them overcome temptation — you get by with a little help from your friends,” says Shea.

The research findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Group of happy teenagers photo by shutterstock.

Disciplined Friends Can Help Individuals Improve Self-Control

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). Disciplined Friends Can Help Individuals Improve Self-Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/04/10/disciplined-friends-can-help-individuals-improve-self-control/53643.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.