The Role of Elaboration in Self-Control
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People can exert self-control in effortful and non-effortful ways. While some research suggests that low thinking hinders self-control, other research indicates that cognitive resources are not necessary for self-control. Unfortunately, only very few theories articulate the conditions under which careful deliberation is helpful or harmful for effective self-control. To answer this question, we draw on research from the attitudes and persuasion literature and suggest that both the direction and amount of thinking are important for understanding when people will exert self-control. We argue that the experience of a self-control conflict can be conceptualized as an exercise in self-persuasion in that people can thoughtfully persuade themselves to indulge or forgo indulgence. Furthermore, because elaboration increases attitude strength, preferences formed under high elaboration conditions should be more impactful (i.e., resistant to change and predictive of behavior) than those formed under low elaboration conditions. In five studies, participants were randomly assigned to read or generate either goal-inconsistent or goal-consistent thoughts under either high or low elaboration conditions using both dieting and financial self-control conflicts. We hypothesized that elaboration is beneficial for self-control when one has elaborated upon goal-consistent thoughts, but can backfire when one has elaborated upon goal-inconsistent thoughts.
Social and Behavioral Sciences; Social Work; Law: 3rd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
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