The authors suggest that this happens because availability of sweets is threatening to the loftier goal of good health, and so causes the mind to damp down desire to protect the greater good. In short, by making a tempting sweet readily available, we make it less tempting.
But what if you could just change your mind? What if you had the option to ditch the health food and scarf down the chocolate instead? Does the mind keep desire flat for as long as the temptation remains an option? The psychologists decided to test this, but not with chocolates. Instead they created a self-control tradeoff involving work and play. They studied a group of graduate students in the University of Chicago's school of business. Unhappily, these MBA students were enrolled in a really boring, although required, class. The researchers had these students rate the desirability of a number of leisure activities, like going to movies and partying and so forth.
Some rated leisure activity while they still had the option of dropping the boring class. Others did the rating after the deadline had passed for dropping the class. In other words, for some the decision was a done deal, while for others it was reversible. They found that, as long as they had the option of blowing off work for play, they continued to dampen their urge to play. It appears the mind protects itself against succumbing to temptation for as long as it must, and it does this by devaluing what's most available.
These findings are a bit puzzling, and the authors raise some intriguing questions: Would dieters actually benefit from the sight of the dessert cart rolling by? Should alcoholics keep liquor in the liquor cabinet- paradoxically to help with self-control? The intuitive a
|Contact: Barbara Isanski|
Association for Psychological Science