Desensitized to Lying

When you’re exposed to a strong smell, at first the smell is extremely noticeable, but eventually you stop noticing it as much. With time, any stimulus — a loud noise, a strong perfume, etc. — is likely to provoke a smaller response. The same goes with lying.

We get desensitized to our own lying as the areas of our brain that correlate with negativity become less active. This makes it easier for us to lie in the future.

“The first time you cheat — let’s say you’re cheating on your taxes — you feel quite bad about it,” Tali Sharot, a University College London neuroscientist. But then the next time you cheat, you’re less likely to get that negative feeling. That makes it easier to lie again. And the cycle escalates from there.

Brian Resnick writing in Vox


Battling Temptation

Many parents and teenagers, while in a cold, rational, Dr. Jekyll state, tend to believe that the mere promise of abstinence – commonly known as “Just say no” – is sufficient protection against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

A better strategy for those who want to guarantee that teenagers avoid sex, is to teach teenagers that they must walk away from the fire of passion before they are close enough to be drawn in. Accepting this advice might not be easy, but our results suggest that it is easier for them to fight temptation before it arises than after it has started to lure them in. In other words, avoiding temptation altogether is easier than overcoming it.

Either we can teach them how to say no before any temptation takes hold, and before a situation becomes impossible to resist; or alternatively, we can get them prepared to deal with the consequences of saying yes in the heat of passion.

One thing is sure: if we don’t teach our young people how to deal with sex when they are half out of their minds, we are not only fooling them; we’re fooling ourselves as well. Whatever lessons we teach them, we need to help them understand that they will react differently when they are calm and cold from when their hormones are raging at fever pitch (and of course the same also applies to our own behavior).

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational

Conserve Your Willpower: It Runs Out

Ever wonder why your resolve to hit the gym weakens after you’ve slogged through a soul-sapping day at work? It’s because willpower isn’t just some storybook concept; it’s a measurable form of mental energy that runs out as you use it, much like the gas in your car.

Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, calls this “ego depletion,” and he proved its existence by sitting students next to a plate of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. Some were allowed to snack away, others ordered to abstain. Afterward, both groups were asked to complete difficult puzzles. The students who’d been forced to resist the cookies had so depleted their reserves of self-control that when faced with this new task, they quickly threw in the towel. The cookie eaters, on the other hand, had conserved their willpower and worked on the puzzles longer.

But there are ways to wield what scientists know about willpower to our advantage. Since it’s a finite resource, don’t spread yourself thin: Make one resolution rather than many. And if you manage to stick with it by, say, not smoking for a week, give your willpower a rest by indulging in a nice dinner. Another tactic is to outsource self-control. Get a gym buddy. Use to regulate your spending or to avoid distracting websites.

As John Tierney, coauthor with Baumeister of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength explains, “People with the best self-control aren’t the ones who use it all day long. They’re people who structure their lives so they conserve it.” That way, you’ll be able to stockpile vast reserves for when you really need it.

Judy Dunn, Wired Magazine

Rich and Poor Cheat for Different Reasons

In certain circumstances, it's the poor who are more likely to cheat. The difference is that the rich do wrong to help themselves, while the poor do wrong to help others. In several experiments reported in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology… the studies suggest a straightforward sequence: Money leads to the perception that one is higher in the social hierarchy, which in turn leads to a sense of power, which in turn leads to a greater willingness to cheat for selfish reasons.

People with less money (and therefore less power), however, are more communal. They need to rely on each other to get by, and as a result, research shows, they’re more compassionate and empathically accurate. Breaking rules is always risky, but social cohesion is paramount — so you do what it takes to help those around you.

The researchers think their findings could lead to some easy practical applications. If you’re speaking to higher-class individuals, you might want to appeal to their selfishness and warn that cheating will ultimately backfire. But when talking to those with fewer resources, you might be better off noting that their actions could harm those around them.

Matthew Hutson, New York Magazine

How to exert self-control

Ever wondered why certain people are able to resist temptation? A Florida State University study indicates their secret is not sheer will power but rather consciously avoiding situations that test their self-control, The Wall Street Journal reports. Researchers recruited 38 volunteers and rated their levels of self-discipline using a series of 13 questions. Half were ranked as above average, half below. The students were then given an anagram to solve and told they could either start it immediately in a noisy student lounge or wait until a quiet lab became available. Among those with below-average self-control, most went for the lounge; among those with better self-control, most chose to wait for a quieter place to work. Previous studies have found that everyone has finite stores of willpower, which can be exhausted by repeated temptations. So researchers said the wisest way to pursue a goal—such as academic success or weight loss—is to structure your environment to minimize distraction and temptation.

The Week Magazine

Chocolate Cake Resistance

It is now a well-established proposition that both self-control and cognitive effort are forms of mental work. Several psychological studies have shown that people who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and by a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation.

Imagine that you are asked to retain a list of seven digits for a minute or two. You are told that remembering the digits is your top priority. While your attention is focused on the digits, you are offered a choice between two desserts: a sinful chocolate cake and a virtuous fruit salad. The evidence suggests that you would be more likely to select the tempting chocolate cake when your mind is loaded with digits.

People who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgments in social situations. A few drinks have the same effect, as does a sleepless night. The self-control of morning people is impaired at night; the reverse is true of night people. Too much concern about how well one is doing in a task sometimes disrupts performance by loading short-term memory with pointless anxious thoughts.

The conclusion is straightforward: self-control requires attention and effort.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

real love

When a man is faithful to one woman, he looks on other women in quite another way, a way unknown to the world of Eros; other women turn into persons instead of being reflections or means. This ‘spiritual exercise’ develops new powers of judgment, self-possession, and respect.* The opposite in this of an erotic man, a steadfast man no longer strives to see a woman as merely an attractive or desirable body... he feels, as soon as tempted, he has been desiring only an illusory or fleeting aspect of what is actually a complete life. Thus temptation recedes disconnected instead of making itself into an obsession; and fidelity is made secure by the clear-sightedness it induces.

(*‘Respect’, as I use the word here, means that we recognize in a being the fullness of a person. A person, according to Kant’s famous definition, is what cannot be used by man as an instrument or thing.)

Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World

reasonable evil

A couple of old-time Baptist deacons approached me after they saw an Easter drama I had written about Judas Iscariot. I expected a complaint because the focus was what might have caused the disciple to turn against Jesus.

One of them said, "What Judas did really made sense. It was the reasonable thing to do."

The bad guy didn’t wear a black hat or yell at old ladies or steal treats from little children. It’s possible Judas did what to him seemed like a reasonable idea at the time. Perhaps he thought giving Jesus a little shove would force the reluctant king to take his rightful place. It could have seemed like the right thing to do - but the move was completely wrong.

Evil doesn’t always show up in outrageous clothing. Direct temptation is not nearly as difficult to handle as evil that approaches as reasonable and thoughtful.

Stephen Goforth