Temptation wins

By • Published: October 8th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Think you have an iron will? Think you can resist temptation?

Maybe you should think again.

When it comes to resisting food, get-rich quick schemes or even an inadvisable dalliance with a co-worker, new research suggests flight works better than fight.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management say most people overestimate their ability to resist greed, addictions and sexual opportunities.

And it turns out they are the ones most likely to give in to temptation.

Researchers started with the assumption that people often don’t appreciate the power of emotional states, especially when they are distanced from hunger, arousal, greed or anger.

But when they are in the midst of those so-called “hot” emotions, it’s a whole new ballgame.

In one experiment, people who overestimated their capacity to resist cigarettes were more likely to light up after simply watching a movie in which people were smoking.

A different experiment focused on hunger. Snacks were given to volunteers who were either “hungry” or “satisfied.” But even hungry volunteers were more likely to refuse the snack than people who weren’t hungry, but who thought they had ironclad will power.

In the end, researchers concluded that people miscalculate the amount of temptation they can handle.

And because they feel bulletproof, they wind up confronting temptation instead of running from it.

And they lose.

The scientists think the research helps explain why so many people suffer with obesity, addictions and other unhealthy lifestyles.

It also provides so insight into why so many business and political leaders wind up breaking the rules.

They just can’t resist.