The greatest human strength? Believe it or not, it's willpower
This is the cover of "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength." Credit: Florida State University
Repeat after me: "I will not eat ice cream, I will not eat ice cream, I will not eat ice cream."
Now, behold the luscious waffle cone heaped with scoops of rocky road and vanilla caramel ripple?
Repeat after me: "Well . . . maybe just a little taste . . . ."
Arrgh don't do it!
At least not until you've read the intriguing new book by Florida State University Professor Roy F. Baumeister and New York Times science writer John Tierney.
"Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength" (The Penguin Press) recently climbed to the top of the charts on the New York Times Bestseller List, making the soft-spoken Baumeister an instant literary celebrity and bringing attention to his decades of research on self-control. In recent weeks, "Willpower" has been reviewed glowingly in the New York Times Sunday Book Review as well as by NPR and the hip website The Daily Beast.
Baumeister, the Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at FSU and head of the department's graduate program in social psychology, has made a career of researching self and identity, emotion, social rejection and belongingness.
Interest in self-regulation or "willpower" has been around since the 19th century, a popular topic mulled by the Victorians (who thought of it as a form of mental energy) and even Charles Darwin, who considered it in "The Descent of Man."
In his new book, Baumeister admits he was "something of a skeptic" about the subject at first. But after examining willpower in a laboratory setting, he understood "how it gives people the strength to persevere, how they lose self-control as their willpower is depleted, how this mental energy is fueled by the glucose in the body's bloodstream."
He began scrutinizing issues such as self-esteem in the 1970s while still in graduate school, when it was fashionable to study "the self in general and identity crisis," Baumeister said. But self-esteem proved to be disappointing in terms of "not providing the consequences and benefits" he had hoped for, he said, so he moved on to other areas of study, including willpower, which he points out is actually a folk term referring to a particular strength needed in order to resist temptation.
Baumeister's current research focuses on self-control, choice and decision-making. He has also investigated how people regulate their emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits and perform up to their potential and why they often fail to do so. In the 1990s, he was part of a social psychology movement that developed a theory about "depletable self-control."
Experiments Baumeister conducted with researchers at Case Western Reserve University where subjects were offered cookies or radishes and then asked to decipher unsolvable geometric puzzles (guess which group gave up first?) were corroborated in more than 100 subsequent experiments. The Institute for Scientific Information lists Baumeister among the handful of most cited (and most influential) psychologists in the world.
Baumeister's groundbreaking research into willpower which dates to the 1990s shows that self-regulation is a little bit like a muscle: It can sometimes be worn down. When subjects were given a task that required them to resist something like a sweet treat or not thinking about a certain kind of animal they didn't perform as well on a subsequent assigned task involving willpower, a result of what Baumeister calls "ego depletion."
Even more interesting was that when the subjects were given a sugar-sweetened drink, self-control was actually improved. Apparently, the sugar provided fuel for the brain to get back to work and restore the person's willpower. And when subjects were asked to make moderate lifestyle changes, such as exercising or tracking dietary habits, they eventually displayed greater overall self-control in their lives, which showed that willpower can be beefed up much like an unused muscle.
Those experiments, which ultimately defined willpower as "a limited resource," made Baumeister realize that he had uncovered something important.
"This was something quite new to the field, in the way we were thinking about the self and even the way I had understood it," he explained, adding that he knew at the time the research had uncovered something significant. "This was a change," he said. "An exciting new development."
As for our ability to flex that sometimes flabby self-control muscle, take heart: "Our willpower has made us the most adaptable creatures on the planet, and we're rediscovering how to help one another use it," Baumeister muses in his bestseller, which, he admits, took a walloping dose of willpower (and a one-year sabbatical) to write. "We're learning, once again, that willpower is the virtue that sets our species apart, and that makes each one of us strong."
Provided by Florida State University
- Need a study break to refresh? Maybe not, say researchers Oct 14, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- No Satisfaction Zaps Motivation, Psychologist Says May 24, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Got sugar? Glucose affects our ability to resist temptation Dec 03, 2007 | not rated yet | 0
- Does clenching your muscles increase willpower? Oct 18, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Rough day at work? You won't feel like exercising Sep 24, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
May 23, 2013 Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
May 22, 2013 As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
(HealthDay)—We've all seen them: the surfers who race to the beach when a hurricane hits, the guy who decides to ride out the storm in his overmatched boat, the tornado chasers who fearlessly steer their ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Women at a particular stage in their monthly menstrual cycle may be more vulnerable to some of the psychological side-effects associated with stressful experiences, according to a study from UCL.
Psychology & Psychiatry 9 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Ernie Pyle – an iconic war correspondent in World War II – reportedly said "There are no atheists in foxholes." A new joint study between two brothers at Cornell and Virginia Wesleyan found that only ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 12 hours ago | 2.5 / 5 (4) | 1
(Medical Xpress)—Research by Stanford scholar Emma Seppala at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education found that post-traumatic stress disorder decreased in veterans who participated ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Patients with diabetes who are depressed are much more likely to develop episodes of dangerously low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, than are those who are not depressed, a new study has ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 13 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
Two mutations central to the development of infantile myofibromatosis (IM)—a disorder characterized by multiple tumors involving the skin, bone, and soft tissue—may provide new therapeutic targets, according to researchers ...
7 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—A new study by researchers in the US has shown that an ancient virus can be modified to help in the fight against the simian immunodeficiency virus SIV, which is the equivalent in monkeys ...
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to ...
10 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Talking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.
6 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(HealthDay)—Comorbid conditions often accompany alopecia areata, according to a study published online May 22 in JAMA Dermatology.
8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Kate O'Reilly's spring allergy survival kit includes the usual stuff - nasal sprays, allergy pills and a box of tissues. This season, she's added a new weapon to her line of defense: an app on her smartphone.
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0