Cake Leftovers

I had a really interesting conversation with Tony E. regarding yesterday’s post Cake and the Collapse of Rationality. As it happens, Tony E. is researching a very similar concept at the moment, specifically how willpower failure/mental exhaustion influences investing choices.

I was curious how one can turn the tide on emotion, go all Vulcan on it, as JonAbad observed.
Tony reports the following:

There are two major research programs investigating this right now. The first one suggests that willpower is like a muscle, and that people are irrational because their muscle is tired out. You can either try to make the muscle stronger in the long term by doing things like meditating, or you can give it a shot in the arm (glucose).

Physiologically, people who have their self control exhausted have lower blood sugar levels and the effects go away if you give them a snack.

Ahhh, fascinating. This adds a twist to the whole “would you like some cake” ruse. In fact, the cake vs. fruit test may have been less ‘can your will power resist the urge for something emotionally desired’ and more like ‘can your will power resist the urge for something physiologically desired.’ My uneducated concern is that these two questions might be intrinsically different.

Let’s get back to Tony’s thoughts

Team 2 doesn’t really disagree with this approach but they add that your perspective also matters. To them, failing to be rational is usually a failure to look at “the big picture”

You can think of any situation in terms of its immediate or long term consequences. People often make bad choices because they focus too much on the immediate. You can make better choices if you force yourself to focus on the long term.

Sadly, if we’re lacking motivation then meditation and finding perspective would probably seem too hard.
Thus, I think it’s clear to say that the only solution is the easiest one: sugar.

Thanks for your help Tony E!

7 thoughts on “Cake Leftovers

  • 2/4/2010 at 3:04 pm

    I like Team 1, because what it sounds like they’re saying is that if I eat cake, I not only will enjoy it’s delightful flavor, but am also helping future Sarah make better decisions. I choose to believe any scenario in which cake is a win-win.

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  • 2/12/2010 at 1:18 pm

    It just keeps getting better….

  • 2/13/2010 at 9:54 am

    I am so excited about this post because self-regulation research (read: will power) is a HOT TOPIC in social and self psychology right now. You guys would love the methodology used to study it. Researchers put plates of cookies in front of people after having either required them to do something simple (no will power required) or something that is annoying (and requires lots of willpower). Then they do things like measure how many cookies people eat, cookies being recognized as not that healthy. So fun!

    Anyway, I would love to hear people’s ideas of how will power works in close relationships (a broad topic area that i am exploring). Always love new research suggestions!


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