Restraining Restraint Bias

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What is Restraint Bias?

Restraint Bias is our (inaccurate) belief that we can control natural urges more than we really can.

But even beyond that, we often TEST ourselves just to prove we can.

Except, we typically CANNOT.

  • “Oh, I don’t need to prep so I won’t get defensive when they challenge my hold-backs at the upcoming budget cut meeting.”
  • “Oh, I don’t need an agenda for my next staff meeting so I don’t ramble on. I can just wing it.”
  • “Oh, I don’t have to write down what I just agreed to do. I won’t forget (again).”
  • “Oh, I can hit the snooze button (one more time) and still get to work on time.”
  • “Oh, I can eat just few potato chips (and not end up inhaling the whole stinkin’ bag).”
  • “Oh, just one more drink…”

You see when it comes to urge- and temptation-management, THINKING about avoiding something – if we even raise it to the level of conscious thought – is significantly easier (and substantially less challenging) than ACTUALLY avoiding it.

Why?

Because we routinely forget how tempting an urge can be when we’re not actually being tempted by it.

And that fools us into thinking that THIS time (or NEXT time) will be different, oh, just you wait and see.

But, realistically – and more likely than not – it won’t be.

Research on Restraint Bias

Turns out that Restraint Bias is a pretty common thing.

Per Researcher Loran Nordgren, et al:

  • Students who rated their ability to overcome mental fatigue more highly than others, also thought they could leave more of their coursework until the last week of term.
  • People who felt they could resist eating their favorite candy bar better than others were actually more likely than others to eat that candy bar.
  • Those promised a greater cash reward for challenging themselves to fend off greater temptations were more likely to lose to those challenges.
  • People in a ‘quit smoking’ program who claimed more impulse control than others were found more likely to relapse.

And those were just the scenarios tested.

So How Best to Restrain Restraint Bias?

David DiSalvo said it best in a Scientific American Mind magazine:

“When you’ve made progress avoiding your indulgences, and that little voice in your head tells you it’s okay to start exposing yourself to temptation again — ignore it.”

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