Trying to Resist Temptation? Think About God
If your willpower is weak, a little divine intervention may help. In a series of studies, Kevin Rounding and colleagues tested participants’ self-control by asking them to endure discomfort to earn a reward, or to delay immediate payment to obtain a larger stipend. Before the test of self-control, half of the participants were exposed to words with religious themes (e.g., divine, spirit, God) in a puzzle-solving task, and half completed the same task without the religious primes. Those who saw the primes were willing to endure greater discomfort and delay gratification longer than those who did not.
Additional studies showed that religious primes also fortified self-control after the fact. In these studies, participants first attempted to resist temptation, and afterward half of the participants viewed religious primes while the other half did not. Finally, all participants were faced with an additional task involving self-restraint. Exposure to the religious words refueled resolve, as participants who saw the religious primes were able to persist at a frustrating task far longer than those who did not.