February 25, 2010

Inspiring Healthy Behavior by Example

Filed under: By Vadim Vilensky — Administrator @ 12:00 am

Modeling the behaviors of those around you is an often subconscious practice commonly associated with poor health habits such as smoking, overeating, binge drinking, and drug use. Overeating studies, for example, have shown that people tend to eat at the pace and volume of the person at the table who eats the fastest and consumes the most.

Hence, although most people would suspect overeating is a consequence of poor self-control, an internal function, there may actually be underlying external cues that encourage people to have that second helping. Recently, researchers at the University of Georgia set out to determine whether, and if so, how or how much positive social influences affect self-control compared to negative social influences.

They designed five independent studies. In one study the participants were asked to simply think of a friend who they believed to have good or bad self-control. Those who thought about someone with good self-control had improved performance on a physical test of self-control.

In a second study, participants simply watched other people make a choice to eat a carrot or a cookie. Following this experience, performance was either positively or negatively influenced by watching someone eat a carrot or a cookie, respectively.

The other experiments showed that simply thinking about a friend with good self-control improves your self-control, and that thoughts of discipline, effort, and achievement are commonly associated with thoughts about friends who have good self-control. In total, the authors convey that these studies demonstrate the infectious nature of self-control.

Interestingly, successful entrepreneurs have a saying that states “you are the sum of the 5 people you surround yourself with most frequently.” Now, science confirms that this effect corresponds not just to success in business, but to positive lifestyle change as well. In other words, it’s important for people who struggle with self-control to surround themselves with people who will set a frequent positive example for eating well and exercising regularly.

Michelle R. vanDellen, and Rick H. Hoyle (2010) Regulatory Accessibility and Social Influences on State Self-Control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 36: 251-263

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