Your Choice of Friends Can Help You Improve Your Focus

Having trouble disciplining yourself to hit the gym rather than joining colleagues for happy hour? Unable to stop chatting with your friend in the next cubicle even though a deadline is looming?

Many of us struggle to resist temptations—even fighting to keep from checking Facebook when we’re trying to finish a report to the boss. The remedy may be developing close working relationships with people who exhibit a high degree of self-discipline, according to a recent study.

152499084Psychological scientists Catherine Shea, Gráinne Fitzsimons, and Erin Davisson of Duke University hypothesized that people with low self-control prefer associating with others who have high self-control as a way of making up for skills they themselves lack. To test this prediction, they had participants watch a video. They experimentally manipulated the participants’ self-control by asking one group to avoid reading words that flashed on the screen during the video (taxing their self-control skills), while giving no such instructions to the other group.

Each participant then read a vignette about one of three office managers—one who demonstrated low self-c ontrol behavior, one who showed high self-control, and one who demonstrated both. The participants rated the office managers on their leadership skills.

The researchers found that people who were temporarily depleted of their self-control rated the manager who had high self-control more positively than the two other managers.

In a second study, people who demonstrated low self-control on a standard self-control task also showed a preference for the manager with high self-control.

In the third study, researchers tested their hypothesis using survey data from 136 romantic couples. Individuals who reported having low-self control also reported greater dependence on their partner if the partner happened to have high self-control.

This new research suggests that individuals who lack self-control may actually have a unique skill: the ability to pick up on self-control cues in others and use those cues to form adaptive relationships.

“What we have shown is that low self-control individuals seem to implicitly surround themselves with individuals who can help them overcome temptation — you get by with a little help from your friends,” Shea said.

The findings in this study appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

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