The new issue of *Psychological Science* includes an article: “What People Desire, Feel Conflicted About, and Try to Resist in Everyday Life.”
The authors are Wilhelm Hofmann1, Kathleen D. Vohs2 and Roy F. Baumeister3.
Here’s how the article starts: “Human beings sustain life by acting on their desires. Yet to act on every desire is sometimes to court disaster, as illustrated by vivid examples ranging from the biblical story of Adam and Eve to the perennial scandals of politicians and other newsmakers. Social norms, morals, and the contingencies of physical health dictate that many desires should be resisted: For example, Schroeder (2007) estimated that 40% of deaths in Western societies are caused by the long-term consequences of acting on desires for such substances as tobacco, sex, alcohol, recreational drugs, and unhealthy food.”
Another excerpt: “The main goal of the present work was to assess and compare the base rates with which various desires are experienced and resisted in people’s natural environments. We used experience-sampling methodology (Csikszentmihalyi & Larsen, 1987; Mehl & Conner, 2012) to assess the frequency and intensity of desires, the conflict between desires and other goals, and the frequency with which desires are resisted and enacted in everyday life. Whereas previous self-regulation research has focused mainly on specific types of desire, such as eating, drinking, and sex, in isolation from each other, we assessed the major desire domains within the same study. Such benchmark information may not only reveal important differences among desire domains but also help to identify previously underresearched topics of self-regulation.”
Another excerpt: “Across various desire domains, results revealed substantial differences in desire frequency and strength, the degree of conflict between desires and other goals, and the likelihood of resisting desire and the success of this resistance. Desires for sleep and sex were experienced most intensively, whereas desires for tobacco and alcohol had the lowest average strength, despite the fact that these substances are thought of as addictive. Desires for leisure and sleep conflicted the most with other goals, and desires for media use and work brought about the most self-control failure. In addition, we observed support for a limited-resource model of self-control employing a novel operationalization of cumulative resource depletion: The frequency and recency of engaging in prior self-control negatively predicted people’s success at resisting subsequent desires on the same day.”
Desire, conflict, and resistance are frequent and pervasive features of daily life.
Although modern civilization may involve advanced and sophisticated forms of behavior, we found that the desires felt most frequently pertained to basic bodily needs, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping.
The desire for social contact was also prominent, reflecting the need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). These desires were not only the most commonly felt but also some of the most strongly felt.
In contrast, acquired tastes, including even those for supposedly addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, and coffee, were below average in subjective strength.
These findings challenge the stereotype of addiction as driven by irresistibly strong desires. Given the range of desires we sampled, it was surprising that those for sleep and leisure emerged as the most problematic (i.e., conflicted) desires.
These results suggest a pervasive tension between natural inclinations to rest and relax and the multitude of other obligations, including work.
Another excerpt: “The idea that self-control failure can be linked to a limited resource has been well documented in laboratory studies (Hagger et al., 2010), but to our knowledge this is the first investigation to establish that it is a phenomenon prevalent in everyday life. Using a novel indirect operationalization that capitalized on people’s reports of their desires throughout the day, we found that the more frequently and recently participants had resisted any earlier desire, the less successful they were at resisting any other subsequent desire. This effect was robust across the average number of daily desires and across thematically unrelated domains. These findings indicate that people become more vulnerable to succumbing to (even unrelated) impulses that arise later in the day, to the extent they restrained themselves earlier from enacting their desires. These results also suggest that the aftereffects of using self-control accumulate over longer time spans than previously thought.”
Here’s how the article ends: “Extrapolating from our findings, we conclude that the average adult spends approximately 8 hours per day feeling desires, 3 hours resisting them, and half an hour yielding to previously resisted ones.”