Strong-willed friends key to self-control

ShoppingStudy says people with low self-control prefer and depend on those with high self-control. (Thinkstock photo)

Low on self-control? Surrounding yourself with strong-willed friends may help, according to a new study.

The study suggests people with low self-control prefer and depend on those with high self-control, possibly as a way to make up for the skills they themselves lack.

The research, conducted by psychological scientists Catherine Shea, Grainne Fitzsimons, and Erin Davisson of Duke University, is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"We all know how much effort it takes to overcome temptation," said Shea, lead author of the study.

"People with low self-control could relieve a lot of their self-control struggles by being with an individual who helps them," Shea said.

To test this prediction, Shea and her colleagues conducted two lab-based studies and one study with real-life romantic partners.

In the first study, participants were asked to watch a video. The researchers experimentally manipulated participants' self-control by asking one group to avoid reading words that flashed up on the screen during the video (depleting their self-control), while giving no such instructions to the other group.

Each participant then read a vignette about one of three office managers - one who demonstrated low self-control behaviour, one who demonstrated high self-control behaviour, and one who demonstrated both high and low self-control behaviours.

When people were temporarily depleted of their self-control, they rated the manager who had high self-control more positively than the two other managers. That is, these participants seemed to compensate for the self-control they lacked by valuing it in others.

A second study confirmed these results, finding people who demonstrated low trait self-control on a standard self-control task also showed a preference for the manager with high self-control.

In the third study, the researchers tested their hypothesis using survey data from 136 romantic couples.

Individuals who reported having low-self control also reported greater dependence on their partner if the partner happened to have high self-control.

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