Personal conflict impairs performance on an unrelated self-control task: Lingering costs of uncertainty and conflict
Abstract People have the ability to make important choices in their lives, but deliberating about these choices can have costs. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that writing about conflicted personal goals and values (conflict condition) would impair self-control on an unrelated subsequent task as compared to writing about clear personal goals and values (clarity condition). Personal conflict activates the behavioral inhibition system (BIS; Hirsh, Mar, & Peterson, 2012), which may make it harder for participants to successfully execute self-control. In this large (N=337), pre-registered study participants in the conflict condition performed worse on anagrams than participants in the clarity condition, and the effect of condition on anagram performance was mediated by a subjective uncertainty measure of BIS activation. This suggests that BIS activation leads to poor self-control. Moreover, given that conflict is inherent in the exercise of self-control, results point to BIS activation as a mechanism for why initial acts of self-control impair self-control on subsequent, unrelated tasks. Highlights High conflict condition had poorer self-control as compared to low conflict condition. Study was large (N=337) and pre-registered on open science framework. Conflict causes self-control impairment on subsequent unrelated tasks. Behavioral inhibition is potential mechanism for ego-depletion.
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