Thinking won't help you resist temptation

Thinking won't help you resist temptation

How to defeat the impulse to gratify desire and stick to your long-term goals of slimness, sobriety, or fidelity? Don't stop and think. Thinking may not help.

That is the surprising conclusion of a new study conducted by Loran Nordgren and Eileen Chou at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, the journal Psychological Science reported.

Nordgren and Chou wanted to make sense of two contradictory bodies of literature.
"One shows that the presence of temptation contorts cognition (thinking) in ways that promotes impulsive behaviour," says Nordgren, according to a statement from the school.

"Another shows that temptation engages protective (thought) processes that promote  self-control. You show a dieter a piece of cake, and an early thought is 'I'm dieting'---and 'no thanks'," he adds.

Both stories leave out a crucial factor, he states.

"The interaction between temptation and 'visceral state' -- hunger, thirst, sexual desire, satiation or craving -- which 'dictates whether the same cognitive processes will be oriented towards impulsive behaviour or self-control'," he notes.

The researchers looked at different cognitive mechanisms, to see how temptation affected them.

In one experiment, 49 male students in committed relationships watched either an erotic film, putting them in an aroused ("hot") state.

Or a filmed fashion show, creating a "cool" state. The experimenters then showed them images of attractive women and observed how long they gazed at them.

A week later, the procedure was the same, but the men were told the women were incoming students -- thus, available. This time, the aroused men gazed longer. More temptation promoted less fidelity. The cool-state men did the opposite.

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