Personal conflict impairs performance on an unrelated self-control task: Lingering costs of uncertainty and conflict

Jessica L. Alquist, Roy F. Baumeister, Ian McGregor, Tammy J. Core, Ilil Benjamin, Dianne M. Tice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

People have the ability to make important choices in their lives, but deliberating about these choices can have costs. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that writing about conflicted personal goals and values (conflict condition) would impair self-control on an unrelated subsequent task as compared to writing about clear personal goals and values (clarity condition). Personal conflict activates the behavioral inhibition system (BIS; Hirsh, Mar, & Peterson, 2012), which may make it harder for participants to successfully execute self-control. In this large (N = 337), pre-registered study participants in the conflict condition performed worse on anagrams than participants in the clarity condition, and the effect of condition on anagram performance was mediated by a subjective uncertainty measure of BIS activation. This suggests that BIS activation leads to poor self-control. Moreover, given that conflict is inherent in the exercise of self-control, results point to BIS activation as a mechanism for why initial acts of self-control impair self-control on subsequent, unrelated tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-160
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume74
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2018

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