Detours increase local knowledge-Exploring the hidden benefits of self-control failure

Self-control enables people to override momentary thoughts, emotions, or impulses in order to pursue long-term goals. Good self-control is a predictor for health, success, and subjective well-being, as bad self-control is for the opposite. Therefore, the question arises why evolution has not endowed us with perfect self-control. In this article, we draw some attention to the hidden benefits of self-control failure and present a new experimental paradigm that captures both costs and benefits of self-control failure. In an experiment, participants worked on three consecutive tasks: 1) In a transcription task, we manipulated how much effortful self-control two groups of participants had to exert. 2) In a number-comparison task, participants of both groups were asked to compare numbers and ignore distracting neutral versus reward-related pictures. 3) After a pause for recreation, participants were confronted with an unannounced recognition task measuring whether they had incidentally encoded the distracting pictures during the previous number-comparison task. The results showed that participants who exerted a high amount of effortful self-control during the first task shifted their priorities and attention toward the distractors during the second self-control demanding task: The cost of self-control failure was reflected in worse performance in the number-comparison task. Moreover, the group which had exerted a high amount of self-control during the first task and showed self-control failure during the second task was better in the unannounced third task. The benefit of self-control failure during number comparison was reflected in better performance during the recognition task. However, costs and benefits were not specific for reward-related distractors but also occurred with neutral pictures. We propose that the hidden benefit of self-control failure lies in the exploration of distractors present during goal pursuit [...]


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