How people resist temptation

Step one: Proactively avoid situations that could challenge self-control

People who are better at resisting temptation purposely avoid putting themselves into situations where they could lose self-control, according to a new study in Personality and Individual Differences.

For the study, researchers at Florida State University conducted an experiment with 38 students ages 18 to 23. The participants rated their self-control on a 13-point scale. Half of the students were categorized as having above-average self-control, while the other half were categorized as below average.

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The students were told they would be completing an anagram and could either solve the puzzle in a noisy student lounge immediately or wait for a period of time and complete the anagram in a quiet lab. Of the students who rated themselves with above-average self-control, 53% chose to wait for the lab and 47% chose to use the lounge. By comparison, 37% of those with below-average self-control chose the lab and 63% chose the lounge.

In a separate experiment, 53 participants ages 18 to 60 were asked to rate themselves in self-control on a 13-point scale and to complete and online intelligence assessment. They were told they could take the test in a standard black-and-white format or a stylized version with artwork on the side panels. They were told the artwork would change periodically and could become distracting.

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Sixty-seven percent of respondents with high self-control chose the standard version, compared with 33% who selected the stylized one. By comparison, 43% of individuals with low self-control chose the standard version and 57% picked the stylized version.

According to researchers, the study suggests that people with higher self-control participate in "proactive avoidance" and do not put themselves in situations in which they might experience temptation (Lukits, Wall Street Journal, 11/24).

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