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The truth is, we're easily tempted

August 6, 2009 |  8:42 am

Temptation Humans regularly succumb to greed, lust and self-destruction. One reason we fail so often in the face of temptation is that we routinely overestimate our personal powers of restraint, researchers say.

A study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University tested how an individual's belief in his or her ability to control impulses -- such as greed, drug craving or sexual arousal -- influenced his or her response to temptation. It found that people usually miscalculated the amount of temptation they could truly handle, which led to a greater likelihood of indulging in an impulsive behavior.

"People are not good at anticipating the power of their urges, and those who are the most confident about their self-control are the most likely to give into temptation," the lead author of the paper, Loren Nordgren, said in a news release. "The key is simply to avoid any situations where vices and other weaknesses thrive and, most importantly, for individuals to keep a humble view of their willpower. . . . We expose ourselves to more temptation than is wise, and subsequently we have millions of people suffering with obesity, additions and other unhealthy lifestyles."

Besides individual behavior, the study raises important questions about whether we can trust our leaders and the need for regulations and oversight in business and government. People also tend to overestimate another person's ability to resist temptation, the study's authors say. People (say, parents) should think carefully when judging whether a person (say, a teenager) might fall prey to temptation.

The study will published this year in the journal Psychological Science.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times