Letting go aborts deleterious affects of excessive self-control

February 19th, 2009 - 6:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 19 (IANS) Self-control is the buzz-word today, and those who can discipline their appetites and actions and instill this virtue in children, inspire respect if not awe. But excessive self-control can be deleterious in the long run.
Tufts University psychologists Evan Apfelbaum and Samuel Sommers were intrigued by the notion that too much self-control may indeed be counter-productive - that relinquishing some power might be paradoxically tonic both for individuals and society.

They explored the virtue of powerlessness in the arena of race relations. They figured that well-intentioned people are careful - sometimes hyper-careful - not to say the wrong thing about race in a mixed-race group.

Furthermore, they thought that such self-control might actually cause both unease and guarded behaviour, which could in turn be misconstrued as racial prejudice.

To test this, they ran a group of white volunteers through a series of computer-based mental exercises that are so challenging that they temporarily deplete the cognitive reserves needed for discipline.

Once they had the volunteers in this compromised state of mind, they put them (and others not so depleted) into a social situation with the potential for racial tension - they met with either a white or black interviewer and discussed racial diversity.

Afterward, the volunteers rated the interaction for comfort, awkwardness, and enjoyment. In addition, independent judges - both black and white - analysed the five-minute interactions, commenting on how cautious the volunteers were, how direct in their answers - and how racially prejudiced.

Those who were mentally depleted - that is, those lacking discipline and self-control - found talking about race with a black interviewer much more enjoyable than did those with their self-control intact, said a Tufts release.

And perhaps the most striking, blacks saw the less inhibited whites as less prejudiced against blacks. In other words, relinquishing power over oneself appears to thwart over-thinking and “liberate” people for more authentic relationships.

These findings were reported in Psychological Science.

-Indo-Asian News Service


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