Floor Kroese: "Tricky treats: How and when temptations boost self-control"

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Floor Kroese: "Tricky treats: How and when temptations boost self-control"

On April 20, 2012 Floor Kroese successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Tricky treats: How and when temptations boost self-control" at Utrecht University.

Prof.dr. D.T.D. de Ridder (Utrecht University)

Dr. C. Evers (Utrecht University)


The overall aim of this dissertation was to explore how and when temptations boost self-control. More specifically, we aimed to a) replicate and extend previous findings showing that temptations yield enhanced self-control on cognitive as well as behavioral measures; b) examine the role of temptation strength as a possible moderator of counteractive control processes; and c) explore whether facilitative temptation-goal associations could be established in people having trouble resisting temptations. The aims were addressed in five empirical chapters, reporting on twelve experiments that were conducted in the context of food temptations.
First, it was demonstrated that participants who were confronted with food temptations, compared to those who viewed neutral stimuli, reported higher healthy eating intentions and were more likely to pick a healthy over an unhealthy cookie on a subsequent behavioral measure (Chapter 2). In Chapter 3, it was shown that self-control processes were activated to a larger extent in response to strong, as compared to weak temptations. For example, participants in the strong temptation conditions displayed higher mental accessibility of the dieting goal (Studies 3.1 and 3.2) and consumed less of the food temptation (Study 3.3) compared to participants in the weak temptation conditions. Chapter 4, then, showed that weak temptations are (sometimes unjustly) perceived to be less unhealthy compared to strong temptations, explaining why weight-conscious people consume more from weak temptations than from strong temptations.
In Chapter 5 we introduced cognitive resources as a moderator for the effect of temptation strength on self-control, to consolidate our paradoxical findings with the mere intuitive prediction that people would be better able to deal with weak rather than strong temptations. It was shown that when cognitive resources were high, participants consumed more from weak than from strong temptations, replicating our previous findings. However, when cognitive resources were low, the opposite pattern was found and participants consumed more from strong than from weak temptations.
Finally, in Chapter 6 it was shown that unsuccessful dieters who made an implementation intention linking a temptation (i.e., chocolate) to their dieting goal, as compared to those who only formulated the intention to diet, became more successful in resisting temptations. Not only did they display facilitated temptation-goal associations as assessed with a primed lexical decision task, we also demonstrated that the strength of this mental association was related to actual chocolate intake in the following week.
Based on the current research it is concluded that temptations are not always bad. Rather than being subjected to their hedonic impulses, people are often well able to resist temptations when appropriate defensive self-regulation mechanisms are activated. However, it is important to realize that people should be especially alert when facing weak temptations, as these may be the ‘tricky treats’.

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