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The most powerful motivator is pride, not punishment [Op-Art]

July 11, 2011 |  2:36 pm

When it comes to resisting temptation, Deborah MacInnis, who has coauthored several studies about self-control, has found a powerful motivator: If you make people feel good, they're more likely to succeed.

In Sunday's Op-Ed pages, she argues this point in regards to the likes of former Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, who lack self-control, though I imagine one could take this very concept and apply it to many different situations, from rehabilitation programs to resisting chocolate cake. An excerpt from her piece:

The proof is in the devil's food. In one of our studies, we put three groups of subjects alone in a room with a very large piece of chocolate cake, the utensils to devour it and water. We told them they could eat as much or as little cake as they wished. But first, the members of one group were instructed to focus on the pride they would feel if they resisted the cake. Those in the second group were told to imagine the shame they would feel if they ate it, and the final (control) group was simply let loose, with no instructions at all.

We discovered that the study subjects who anticipated pride at resisting the cake consumed far less than those who focused on the shame of succumbing. They also ate less than the control group. In other words, when it comes to self-regulation, anticipated pride outperformed anticipated shame as well as unconsidered, heedless consumption.

To help illustrate MacInnis' article, artist Peter Ryan contributed "temptation" and "pride."



Which image looks more satisfying?


Admiring the enemy [Op-Art]

Curbing our junk-food appetite

Human memory: What did you do last Sunday?

Why we should show Anthony Weiner some sensitivity

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Illustrations: Peter Ryan

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