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Can you resist? We don’t appreciate how powerful temptation can be

temptation“I can resist everything except temptation.” — Oscar Wilde

It seems Oscar was right.

Loran Nordgren at the Kellogg School of Management confirmed this while looking at the importance of “restraint bias” – the way people miscalculate how much temptation they can handle.

They found that the people who were least confident in their ability to resist fared best – because they kept temptation well out of their way.

In one of Nordgren's experiments, 53 smokers were invited to undergo a battery of diagnostic tests. Subjects were asked to watch a 30-minute clip of the film “Coffee and Cigarettes” and told that they would win money if they managed not to smoke for the duration of the film. They were given a cigarette and had to decide where to leave it: in another room, on a desk, in their hand or in their mouth. The closer to their mouth they left the cigarette, the more money they stood to gain if they resisted temptation.

People in the group that had been led to believe they had poor impulse control were more likely to leave the cigarette on the desk or in the other room. Those who had been told they had good impulse control risked holding it or even putting it in their mouths.

But the closer to their mouth someone left the cigarette, the more likely they were to light up. “People with the most confidence were the most likely to fail,” says Nordgren.

“We don't appreciate how powerful temptation can be”

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