Friday, July 22, 2011

Eating Cake for Science

From a party at The Red Carpet for my Pop & Stepmom & their friend Mike. 
Eating cake in a bar is pretty much my idea of heaven.

Deborah MacInnis is a researcher and business professor at USC. And she and her colleagues have found some super interesting data on the effects of shame and guilt vs. pride on people's behavior around temptation. In this case, an inordinately large slice of chocolate cake.

Participants were told they could eat as much cake as they wanted. But first, they had to indulge in a little mental exercise. One group was told to focus on the pride they would feel if they did not eat the cake. The second group thought about the shame they would feel if they ate the cake. And the control group was told to cake it up to their heart's content.

Guess which group ate the least cake?
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.
Pretty cool, no? Feeling good about yourself is stronger than feeling bad!

But the part I find the most compelling is this:
Our research also indicated that not all bad feelings are equal when it comes to undermining self-control. For example, when we asked subjects to anticipate guilt instead of shame, it made them eat more cake. Guilt, it turns out, carries a triple whammy: It concentrates thoughts on the temptation rather than on self-control; it makes you generally feel bad, weakening resistance; and it heightens the expected pleasure from being bad, which makes the temptation more tempting.
What MacInnis found, and the thing that bears more looking into, is that the most effective way to do what you want (in this case, to not eat too much cake) is to focus on yourself - your strengths, your potential to feel good, rather than something outside of yourself that you don't have any control over, like the deliciousness of chocolate cake.

Also, I mean, come on: Cake! For Science!

Human behavior: To resist temptation, forget guilt or shame and think positive (L.A. Times)

1 comment:

  1. Such good timing on this post, Angelle. My birthday is Monday. I think I'll have some cake. And I'll enjoy it (without the side of shame or guilt).