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Self-Control is Contagious

Your ability to resist eating a cookie, or your inability to control yourself, may have a lot to do with who you hang out with, according to a study from the University of Georgia.

Researchers say self-control is contagious. Ditto for lack of self control.

The series of studies involved hundreds of volunteers. They found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control made them more likely to exert self-control. The opposite was also true -- so much so that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed behavior.

"The take-home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control," said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the Georgia department of psychology, in a statement. "And by exhibiting self-control, you're helping others around you do the same."

It's been known that people tend to mimic behavior. This is true when it comes to smoking, drug use and obesity, the researcher said. But the new study is thought to be the first to show that self-control is contagious across behaviors.

Researchers said that means that thinking about someone who regularly exercises can make a person more likely to stick with his financial goals, career goals or other things that involve self-control.

The finding were published in the journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

VanDellen said the findings, however, do not absolve people of accountability for their actions. She said it was more of a "nudge" toward or away from temptation.

So eat the cookie, but don't blame the baker.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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