Abstract Temptations Are Easier to Avoid Than Specific Ones

Posted on April 17, 2017

Photo: flickr

An example of an abstract temptation would be, say, a dessert, while a specific temptation would be a delectable ice-cream sundae topped with rainbow sprinkles. It is likely that the more detailed description of the ice-cream sundae sounds more mouth-watering to you than the general, “no-frills” word: dessert. However, this also means that specific temptations are harder to resist and even harder to ignore. Research purports that it will be easier to prevent yourself from eating a cookie if you simply think of it as food, as compared to thoughts about the wonderful sensation of chocolate chips melting in your mouth.

It is intriguing to note that you can control the way you think about things. You can choose to think about temptations in a specific manner or generically in the form of a broad temptation. Researchers have often wondered if being adept at switching between these two forms of thought helps with your self-control. A group of researchers did several studies investigating this hypothesis. In one particular study, participants were given a bunch of abstract and specific statements. They were then told to judge how helpful they think the statements will be in restricting the number of cookies they consume during a taste test. The purpose of this study was to see if participants could recognise that abstract statements are better in helping their self-control as compared to specific ones. In an extension of the study that targeted dieters: people who deliberately control their food intake, it was found that among dieters alone, those who recognised that abstract statements are more effective in helping them maintain self-control have a lower BMI than those who are unaware. This means that those who know how to utilise these abstract statements to their advantage can control temptation better than those who do not. Self-control is not limited to food, though. The same researchers also looked at studying as a long-term goal of self-control. Similarly, those who were aware of how abstract statements help with self-control were able to study better.

Ultimately, this skill is a conscious choice and can definitely be picked up from scratch. Focus on thinking of your temptations in a broad, abstract manner, rather than harping on minute details and desirable characteristics.


Category(s):Control Issues, Other

Source material from Psychology Today


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