Monitor on Psychology - January 2012 - (Page 36)

Questionnaire The power of self-control In his latest research Roy F. Baumeister has discovered surprising ways to improve willpower, including sipping lemonade. BY kiRStEN WEiR W illpower touches on nearly all aspects of healthy living: eating right, exercising, avoiding drugs and alcohol, studying more, working harder, spending less. Unsurprisingly, selfcontrol has become a hot topic, both for scientists interested in understanding the roots of human behavior and for practitioners who want to help people live healthier lives. Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, a social psychologist at Florida State University, is one of the field’s leading researchers. His new book, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength,” co-authored with journalist John Tierney and released in September, describes surprising evidence that willpower is a limited resource subject to being used up. Baumeister spoke to the Monitor about his research on self-control — where it comes from, how to get more of it and what psychologists still need to learn. What drives you to better understand willpower? The practical significance is enormous. Most of the problems that plague modern individuals in our society — addiction, overeating, crime, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, prejudice, debt, unwanted pregnancy, educational failure, underperformance at school and work, lack of savings, failure to exercise — have some degree of selfcontrol failure as a central aspect. Psychology has identified two main traits that seem to produce an immensely broad range of benefits: intelligence and self-control. Despite many decades of trying, psychology has not found much one can do to produce lasting increases in intelligence. But selfcontrol can be strengthened. Therefore, self-control is a rare and powerful opportunity for psychology to make a palpable and highly beneficial difference in the lives of ordinary people. You’ve found that willpower is a limited resource. Can you explain that? Many studies have found that people perform relatively poorly on tests of self-control when they have engaged in a previous, seemingly unrelated act of self-control. For instance, in a study in this month, APA will release the results of its annual Stress in America Survey, which in years past has found that a significant number of people blame lack of willpower for their inability to make healthy lifestyle changes. to further explore the topic, APA is releasing a special report on willpower in the coming weeks. See www. stressinamerica.org for details. my lab, we invited some students to eat fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies, and asked others to resist the cookies and munch on radishes instead. Then we gave them impossible geometry puzzles to solve. The students who ate the cookies worked on the puzzles for 20 minutes, on average. But the students who had resisted the tempting cookies gave up after an average of eight minutes. Such studies suggest that some willpower was used up by the first task, leaving less for the second. The pattern is opposite to what one would expect based on priming or activating a response mode. So we began to think that some kind of limited resource is at work: It gets depleted as people perform various acts of self-control. Over time, we have begun to link this resource to the folk notion of willpower. “Willpower” itself is a folk term, and the idea that we have some strength of character is a staple of folk psychology. Until recently, these folk notions had little resemblance to much in psychological theory — but our findings suggest that these notions are at least partly correct. However, in some respects, willpower depletion differs from traditional and folk ideas about willpower. how so? For example, we found that making decisions also seems to deplete one’s willpower. We found the same energy that is used for self-control is also used for making decisions. After making decisions, people perform worse at self- 36 M o n i t o r o n p s y c h o l o g y • J a n u a ry 2 0 1 2 http://www.stressinamerica.org http://www.stressinamerica.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Monitor on Psychology - January 2012

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012
Letters
President’s Column
Contents
Contents
From the CEO
Apa’s Statement on the Dsm-5 Development Process
Girl Scouts Badge Promotes Positive Psychology
Early Investments Pay Off for Poor Children, Study Finds
Apa Meets With Chinese Psychological Society to Further Interaction and Exchange
Unique Opportunity for Psychologists to Travel to Cuba
In Brief
Government Relations Update
On Your Behalf
Psychology’s Growing Library of Podcasts
Standing Up for Psychology
Judicial Notebook
Random Sample
Time Capsule
Questionnaire
Science Watch
Beyond Psychotherapy
Perspective on Practice
Yes, Recovery Is Possible
Inequity to Equity
Making E-Learning Work
New Standards for High School Psychology
A Trailblazer Moves On
Psychologist Profile
Plan Now for Psychology’s Regional Meetings
New Journal Editors
Apa News
Division Spotlight
American Psychological Foundation
Personalities

Monitor on Psychology - January 2012

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