The Secret to Resisting Temptation

People Who Excel at Resisting Temptation Deliberately Avoid Tempting Situations, Says a Study


People who excel at resisting temptation might have a secret strategy: They deliberately avoid situations in which their self-control might fail, says a study in the February issue of Personality and Individual Differences.

Highly disciplined individuals often make decisions that minimize their exposure to temptations and distractions, the study suggests.

Effective self-control has been linked to happiness and success in life while failures of self-control can have costly consequences, researchers said. The latest study suggests people with good self-control may use so-called proactive avoidance to avoid resisting temptation.

Researchers at Florida State University recruited 38 students ages 18 to 23 years old. Self-control was rated using a scale that included 13 statements about the participants’ discipline.

Half the students were ranked as above average in self-control and half were below average.

The students were told they would be solving an anagram and could work in a noisy student lounge or wait for a quiet lab that wasn’t immediately available. Of those with below-average self-control, 37% chose the lab and 63% chose the lounge. By comparison, 53% of the subjects with above-average self-control chose the lab and 47% chose the lounge.

The finding suggests high self-control is associated with avoiding, rather than overcoming, distraction, the researchers said.

In another experiment, 53 subjects ages 18 to 60 were recruited to take an online intelligence test in one of two formats: a standard black-and-white version or a stylized version with artwork on both sides of the screen.

The subjects were told the artwork would change frequently and might be distracting. Participants’ self-control was rated on the 13-point scale.

Of those with relatively low self-control, 43% picked the standard version and 57% picked the stylized version. But among high-self-control subjects, 67% chose the standard version and 33% chose the stylized version.

Caveat: It isn’t known if high self-control is associated with avoiding other types of distractions and temptations, such as high-calorie foods while dieting, researchers said.