Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to lower your self control.

An interesting piece of work from Ackerman et al. We know that imagining or actively perceiving other people's actions can elicit many of the same neural and embodied responses that would occur if we performed those actions ourselves. This work shows that observing someone exerting self control sufficiently engages our empathetic mirroring of that process that it fatigues our own self control!
Acts of self-control may deplete an individual's self-regulatory resources. But what are the consequences of perceiving other people's use of self-control? Mentally simulating the actions of others has been found to elicit psychological effects consistent with the actual performance of those actions. Here, we consider how simulating versus merely perceiving the use of willpower can affect self-control abilities. In a first study, participants who simulated the perspective of a person exercising self-control exhibited less restraint over spending on consumer products than did other participants. In a second study, participants who took the perspective of a person using self-control exerted less willpower on an unrelated lexical generation task than did participants who took the perspective of a person who did not use self-control. Conversely, participants who merely read about another person's self-control exerted more willpower than did those who read about actions not requiring self-control. These findings suggest that the actions of other people may either deplete or boost one's own self-control, depending on whether one mentally simulates those actions or merely perceives them.

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