New research from the Kellogg School of Management finds that people often fall into temptation because they overestimate the restraint they actually possess:
The study, led by Loran Nordgren, senior lecturer of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, examined how an individual’s belief in his/her ability to control impulses such as greed, drug craving and sexual arousal influenced responses to temptation. The research found the sample, on average, displayed a “restraint bias,” causing individuals to miscalculate the amount of temptation they could truly handle, in turn leading to a greater likelihood of indulging impulsive or addictive behavior.
“People are not good at anticipating the power of their urges, and those who are the most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give into temptation,” said Nordgren. “The key is simply to avoid any situations where vices and other weaknesses thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to keep a humble view of their willpower.”
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“A system which assumes people will control themselves is going to fall prey to this restraint bias; we expose ourselves to more temptation than is wise, and subsequently we have millions of people suffering with obesity, addictions and other unhealthy lifestyles,” said Nordgren. “And, while our study focused on personal behaviors like smoking and eating, it is easy to apply our findings to a broader context. Understanding the power of temptation, you might also ask about the extent to which we need oversight or regulatory guidelines for business and political leaders.”