This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
IMP OVING YOU SELF CONT OL
Interview by Karen Christensen
Self-control of one form or another is a challenge for most people. Describe the basics of this age-old conﬂict. One tool we use to enforce self-control is willpower. What are some of the key things we know about it?
Self-control dilemmas typically involve trying to resist something that is immediately tempting, but that we know is not good for us in the long-term. For example, say you need to lose some weight, but you really feel like eating that piece of chocolate cake on the bu et: you are fully aware that doing so conicts with your long-term goal and that you should restrain yourself; but will you? Self-control dilemmas also arise in situations where we have to undergo immediate pain or discomfort to achieve a long-term bene t. For instance, everyone knows we should be saving our money for the future, yet we still go shopping, and despite our best intentions we often splurge on minor indulgences. Exercise is another example; we often have to force ourselves to get o the couch and get to the gym, but we know full well that if we do, there will be signi cant long-term gains.
Willpower is what enables us to say, ‘I am not going to give in: I am going to do what is best for me in the long-term.’ People try to summon willpower in a variety of ways; they may conger up thoughts that bolster the value of long-term actions or suppress thoughts of temptation. The problem is, willpower is a limited resource, and employing it is di cult. As a consequence, as people try to ‘ rm up’ their resolve, they may clench their sts, grit their teeth, or scrunch their muscles, re ecting the mental turmoil that comes from combating a self-control dilemma. Some of my colleagues have actually compared willpower to a muscle – something that you can work to strengthen but that can also quickly get depleted.
What is ‘embodied cognition’?
The traditional view amongst philosophers, psychologists and consumer researchers was that ‘the mind is an engine that powers the body and enables us to act, steering us to
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‘I have to deal with this. can also evoke sensations of power. shaking) one’s head can increase how much one agrees with a persuasive message. my colleague Iris Hung and I felt that the body might also be instrumental in self-regulation. because people believed that submerging their hand for a longer period indicated strong blood circulation. it also shows that eye movements can signi cantly improve the rate at which one can solve brainteasers. merely simulating a smile (vs. if selfcontrol is a battle that involves strengthening willpower to withstand immediate discomfort or resist immediate pleasure to attain long-term bene ts. while research shows that the solution of brainteasers involving spatial relations is accompanied by eye movements. and Iris and I learned that it is actually very painful to submerge your hand in it – even for a few seconds. their willpower was summoned to say. but here. devastated children opened their hearts and gave signi cantly more than those whose sts were not clenched. those who clenched their other st were able to submerge their hand for a signi cantly longer period. Given the ndings that cognition is embodied to a certain extent. which often occurs when one feels powerful. we asked people to put their dominant hand in the bucket. slumping over). What we found is that. It’s good for me to deal with it. Not only do cognitions generate accompanying bodily responses.accomplish whatever we perceive to be in our best interest’. Nevertheless. 7561 080_113. they were more likely to make a donation to Haitian Earthquake Relief. we asked that they clench their other hand at the same time. In a third study.e. We asked some of the group to drink it. which then in uence our actions. we told people that their ability to withstand icy water indicates how good their blood circulation is. For instance. That was very interesting to us. it was an indicator of their long-term health. This is actually very good for you – it helps with everything from hair and skin condition to digestion. Describe how your research integrated the ﬁndings on self-regulation and embodied cognition. nodding (vs. We also used a classic technique in Psychology by reminding all of the subjects of their long-term health goals. Basically. we found that when people clenched their st. might rming one’s muscles also help to rm willpower? We felt it was entirely possible that in our minds. because you might assume that clenching one’s st would be associated with less donations. but those bodily responses can also independently generate the associated cognitions and in uence judgment. we associate ‘ rming up’ with willpower – that it is an automatic reaction to a self-control 98 / otman Magazine Fall 2012 In one study. people who rmed their muscles while viewing very unpleasant images of poor. i. What we found is that those who rmed their muscles were able to overcome their initial resistance and drink much more of it. A gut negative reaction and feeling of discomfort was overcome. and mere exposure to sunlight can induce positive feelings. Studies also show that standing upright (vs. could rming up also help people recruit willpower and self-control? Describe the experiments you conducted. The basic idea of embodied cognition is that memories are ‘multi-modal’ – they are not stored purely in the mind. Cognitions that reside in the mind are just one component of an experience that additionally includes an entire constellation of perceptions. That is. We got a bucket of ice. For some.. and they did something good. movements and sensations that make up the experience. But recent evidence shows that the body actually inuences the mind to a greater degree than has previously been recognized. dilemma. we gave our subjects a nasty concoction to drink: one part vinegar and ten parts water. The question we had was. and others to drink it while clenching their st.indd 98 12-07-30 5:41 PM .’ In another study. a frown) can elicit positive emotion.
‘Hold this pen in your non-dominant hand’. We also asked all of them whether they had a health goal or not. of “From Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation” which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research (Vol. ‘Nah. I think it’s important to let people know that this works. your research has important implications. From our ndings. Of course. From a public policy and consumer well-being perspective. We tested our hypothesis mostly in regards to doing social good. people shouldn’t dwell on their long-term goals all of the time. But we de nitely found that it creates a small increase in self-control and willpower.We found that when you face a dilemma. The ip side was. of course. which unbeknownst to them.37). In our increasingly complex environment. All we said was. but we believe these ndings can be generalized to all kinds of other dilemmas. I don’t feel like doing this. and that it works best alongside a conscious focus on one’s long-term goals. it is more and more important to force ourselves to listen to con icting points of view. I think one area where it could help is with social interactions. we surprised them by asking for their receipt. we caught people before they went into a snack bar and told them we were running a study. could this technique also help people resist something tempting and do what is best for them in the long-term? In a fourth experiment. had the e ect of rming their muscles. Aparna Labroo is the Patricia C. we can rm our muscles and it will help to strengthen our resolve. it should actually make him or her more responsive to the parties they’re negotiating with. you can firm your muscles and it will help to strengthen your resolve. and that those who had a health goal and were rming their muscles. It’s easy to just switch o and not listen to what others have to say and stick with your own view. saving and conservation behaviours – anything where the gut reaction is. and we looked at what they had bought. Could your ﬁndings also help business leaders exert selfcontrol when necessary? I certainly hope so. they would probably end up having lots of regrets later in life. if they did. This not a magic pill. We indicated that we were testing multi-tasking. on average. Ellison Professor of Marketing at the Rotman School of Management. What we found is that people who had a clear long-term health goal tended to buy much healthier items compared to those who didn’t have a clear health goal. Of course. But when we are facing a dilemma. even though I really should’.indd 99 12-07-30 5:41 PM . if you remind someone that the goal is to reach a truly optimal decision for everyone. and ask them to rm their muscles. were they going to face a dilemma when they saw yummy things in front of them? When the students returned to our stall. She is the co-author. with Iris Hung. too. bought the healthiest things. helping others and doing personal good. it won’t ensure 100 per cent success in achieving your long-term goals. Some were told to proceed inside and make their purchase. Rotman faculty research is ranked in the top ten worldwide by the Financial Times. while others were asked to hold a pen between their four ngers of one hand. the idea was. and this can be seen as a selfcontrol dilemma. even a little bit of substitution of healthy items is great. otman Magazine Fall 2012 / 99 7561 080_113. such as making nancially-prudent decisions. It does. because saving a few calories a day can make a big di erence in the long run.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?