Does the mere availability of something tempting weaken the will to resist? The answer is of more than theoretical interest to public health experts, and the problem goes far beyond serious addictive disorders. Just think of all those Christmas cookies in your office recently. As our national obesity crisis shows, difficulties with discipline and self-control are widespread and harmful.
Every self-control challenge is a tradeoff of one kind or another, and with chocolates and other desserts it's a tradeoff between satisfying a sweet tooth and commitment to good nutrition. Although it seems intuitively obvious that the dieter should not keep bonbons in every room of the house, psychological theory argues the opposite. According to counteractive self-control theory, we deflate desire for readily available temptation when indulging conflicts with pursuit of more important goals.
Three psychologists recently decided to test the paradoxical view of temptation based on counteractive self-control theory. Kristian Ove Myrseth and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago and Yaacov Trope of NYU predicted that increasing the availability of sweets would indeed 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.
The psychologists figured that young women at a gym would tend to be health conscious - and thus conflicted over the choice. The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that the women did indeed prefer the healthy power bars - that is, they devalued the chocolates. However, this preference disappeared as s
|Contact: Barbara Isanski|
Association for Psychological Science