Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Feb 07, 2019

Are You Being More Authentic When You Eat the Cookie or When You Avoid It?

a small child peeks over a counter at a plate of cookies lurking nearby

It’s been a long day at work. You are walking down the street towards home when you are suddenly greeted with the mouth-watering scent of freshly baked cookies from the local store. Immediately, you feel a wave of temptation.

Would avoiding the temptation make you feel like you are aligned with your authentic self, staying the course on your ideal fitness goals? Or, instead, is this temptation trying to tell you something about what you really want, making eating the cookies an authentic act that is in line with your true desires and true self?

New work by Katie Garrison, Grace Rivera, and colleagues from Texas A&M University looked to see whether people perceive exercising self control as more authentic than acting on impulse, or vice versa. Both of these could potentially be seen as more authentic: self-control could be seen as you staying true to yourself and your long-term considered desires, but indulging in impulse could also be seen as doing something that is in line with what you truly want. “We could see both of them being construed as authentic…we could see people going both ways” said Garrison.

The results found that participants were more likely to see acting on self-control as being more authentic when looking at responses across a wide range of self-control conflicts. However, there were interesting differences in who was more likely to say that self-control was authentic as opposed to acting on impulses.

Having the tendency to see exerting self-control as authentic was correlated with trait self control, an overall measure of how successful people are in pursing their long term goals. On the other hand, having the tendency to see indulging in impulse as authentic was negatively related to self-control and linked with neuroticism and lower self-esteem.

Garrison and Rivera speculated that people who view their impulses as less authentic might have an easier time supressing them. “If you do feel that your impulses are authentic then supressing them might be negatively impactful towards well-being, but if you do not see them as authentic then supressing them isn’t as much of a problem” said Rivera.

The next time you get a wave of temptation for freshly baked cookies, it might be helpful to see that impulse not as an authentic expression of yourself, but to instead to see your desire for long-term health as more indicative of who you are.

Written By: Abdo Elnakouri, PhD Candidate at the University of Waterloo

"Perceptions of Authenticity in Self-control Conflicts," a poster presented at the Existential Preconference, held on February 7th, 2019

Speakers: Katie Garrison, Texas A&M University, Grace Rivera, Texas A&M University

Co-Authors:  Rebecca Schlegel, Texas A&M University; Brandon Schmeichel, Texas A&M University



About our Blog

Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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