Does temptation really weaken our will to resist?

February 2nd, 2009 - 5:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 2 (IANS) Every self-control challenge is a trade off. With chocolates and desserts it’s a trade off between satisfying a sweet tooth and commitment to nutrition. Although it seems intuitively obvious that the dieter should not keep bonbons in every room of the house, psychological theory argues the opposite. Three psychologists recently decided to test the paradoxical view of temptation based on counteractive self-control theory. Kristian Ove Myrseth and Ayelet Fishbach of University of Chicago and Yaacov Trope of New York University predicted that increasing the availability of sweets would deflate desire for them.

They tested this notion by offering women exiting the gym the choice between Power Bars or chocolates and asked them to rate their desire for each. Simple enough, but here’s the twist. Some rated their desire before choosing and others right after - but before eating.

The idea was to compare desire for chocolate when it was readily available, and when it was made unavailable, said a Chicago release.

The psychologists figured that young women at a gym would tend to be health conscious - and thus conflicted over the choice. The results reveal that the women did indeed prefer the healthy power bars - that is, they devalued the chocolates.

However, this preference disappeared as soon as they made their choice and the unhealthy temptation was no longer an option. So it appears that self-control does in fact operate paradoxically by actually diminishing desire for what is tempting and accessible.

These findings were reported in Psychological Science.

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