Sep 13, 2012

Temptation Paper of the Day

Temptations besiege us, and we must resist their appeal if we are to achieve our long-term goals. In two studies, we tested the hypothesis that cognitive reappraisal [What is this? It is explained below] could be used to successfully maintain performance in a task embedded in temptation. In Study 1, 62 participants had to search for information on the Internet while resisting attractive task-irrelevant content on preselected sites. In Study 2, 58 participants had to count target words in a funny TV sequence. Compared to the no-reappraisal condition, participants who understood the situation as a test of willpower (the reappraisal condition) (1) performed better at the task (Studies 1 and 2), and (2) were less tempted by the attractive content of the TV sequence (Study 2). These findings suggest that, by making the temptation less attractive and the task more appealing, cognitive reappraisal can help us resist temptation.
What is cognitive reappraisal?
. . . [C]ognitive reappraisal, or changing the meaning of the situation so as to decrease the value of the temptation and/or increase the value of the task. In a representative study that tested the value of cognitive reappraisal, participants had to take a math test while being tempted by entertaining comedy clips on TV. Half of the participants were instructed to cognitively reappraise the situation as a “test of willpower”. Such reappraisal aimed to decrease the value of the temptation (“If I indulge, it means I don't have willpower”) and increase the value of the task (“If I concentrate, it means I have willpower”). The reappraisal creates a new immediate and desirable goal (proving I have willpower) which competes with the immediate undesirable goal produced by temptation. Reappraisal therefore alters the contingency between the goals with which the individual is faced.

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