Strong Friendship Network Can Help Boost Self-Control

Alan McStravick for – Your Universe Online
Self-control is a trait too many people lack. Whether it is summoning the strength to get to the gym for a workout or abstaining from snacks between meals, the drive to simply satisfy a basic desire is too strong in too many. However, new research out of Duke University shows surrounding one´s self with friends and intimates who possess a stronger sense of self-control can aid in strengthening the trait in themselves.
The study, conducted by psychological scientists Catherine Shea, Gráinne Fitzsimons and Erin Davisson has recently been published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“We all know how much effort it takes to overcome temptation,” says Shea, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Fitzsimons´s lab. “People with low self-control could relieve a lot of their self-control struggles by being with an individual who helps them.”
In order to test their hypothesis, Shea and colleagues employed three studies on different populations. The first two studies were laboratory based. The third focused on real-life romantic partners and how they assist one another in maintaining a stricter self-control.
The first study involved presenting a video to study participants. One group was instructed by the researchers to avoid reading certain words that flashed up on the screen during the video. This, according to the team, was an exercise in manipulating the participants´ self-control. The second group was given no such instructions.
Immediately following the video presentation, each of the participants were asked to read a scenario about one of three office managers. The first demonstrated low self-control behavior. The second exhibited high self-control behavior. And the third presented both low and high self-control behaviors. The participants were then asked to rate the office managers on their perceived leadership abilities.
According to the team, the results of this particular study were clear. The participants whose self-control had been depleted (those instructed to not read the flash words in the video), rated the manager who had high self-control more positively than the other two managers. The researchers state this higher rating was an example of compensation for the self-control the participants lacked by valuing it in others.
The second laboratory based study confirmed the results. In this study, the participants were asked to complete a standard self-control task. Those who exhibited low trait self-control, like those manipulated in the first study, showed a preference for the manager with high self-control.
After having completed the two laboratory-based studies, the team tested their hypothesis further by culling over survey data collected by 136 romantic couples.
Once again, claim the researchers, their hypothesis was confirmed. Individuals in these relationships who self-reported having a diminished level of self-control also reported a greater dependence on their partner if that partner happened to have high self-control.
“Self-control, by its name and definition, is a ℠self´ process – something that we do alone, as individuals,” observes Shea. “Yet, when we order food on a menu or go to work, we´re often surrounded by other people.”
These studies and their findings are divergent from previous research, which typically focused on the negative aspects associated with low self-control, such as poorer academic achievement and health outcomes. The team contends their study suggests individuals who lack self-control, however, may have a unique skill set. The team states low self-control individuals are uniquely suited to pick up on self-control cues in others, using those cues to form adaptive relationships.
“What we have shown is that low self-control individuals seem to implicitly surround themselves with individuals who can help them overcome temptation – you get by with a little help from your friends,” says Shea.
The research was supported in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.

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