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Over-confidence leads us into temptation

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    Over-confidence leads us into temptation * 15:43 10 August 2009 by Alison Motluk * For similar stories, visit the The Human Brain and Drugs and Alcohol Topic
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 12, 2009
       Over-confidence leads us into temptation

          * 15:43 10 August 2009 by Alison Motluk
          * For similar stories, visit the The Human Brain and Drugs and Alcohol Topic Guides

      Oscar Wilde was speaking for all of us when he said: "I can resist everything except temptation."

      Loran Nordgren at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago and colleagues confirmed this while looking at the importance of "restraint bias" – the way people miscalculate how much temptation they can handle. They found that the people who were least confident at their ability to resist fared best – because they kept temptation well out of their way.

      In one experiment, 53 smokers were invited to undergo a battery of diagnostic tests. The first test was bogus and used only to sort them randomly into two groups. Members of one group were then told they had a "high capacity for impulse control", while the others were labelled "low".

      The subjects were then asked to watch a 30-minute clip of the film "Coffee and Cigarettes" and told that they would win money if they managed not to smoke for the duration of the film. They were given a cigarette and had to decide where to leave it: in another room, on a desk, in their hand or in their mouth. The closer to their mouth they left the cigarette, the more money they stood to gain if they resisted temptation.
      I can hack it...

      People in the group that had been led to believe they had poor impulse control were more likely to leave the cigarette on the desk or in the other room. Those who had been told they had good impulse control risked holding it or even putting it in their mouths.

      But the closer to their mouth someone left the cigarette, the more likely they were to light up. "People with the most confidence were the most likely to fail," says Nordgren.

      Other experiments supported this conclusion. In a field study, former smokers who had quit for three weeks were asked how confident they were about their self-control and what temptations they were actively avoiding. Four months later, 60 per cent of the most confident, who were the least careful about avoiding triggers, had resumed smoking, whereas only 40 per cent of the more vigilant folks had.

      "We don't appreciate how powerful temptation can be," says Nordgren, and our brains may prime us for addiction. Avoiding the temptation altogether is the only way to stay out of trouble, he says.

      Journal reference: Psychological Science

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