Thinking About Money Boosts Willpower

Money is the root of all evil? Not exactly, since having lots of it can provide a greater sense of control. Besides, research has found that this feeling of self-sufficiency actually translates to more self-control. Fortunately, if you don’t have real cash, you can still elicit that effect by thinking about money-related stuff, which is similar to how religious thoughts can boost willpower. Mark Twain was right—the lack of money is the root of all evil—without money, you probably will lack willpower.

Self-control is a limited resource—one act of self-control (e.g., resisting a chocolate in the afternoon) depletes the amount of willpower you have left, making it harder for you to exercise your self-control later (e.g., forcing yourself to get off the couch to go for a workout in the evening). This temporary reduction of self-control is also known as the ego-depletion effect.

To investigate the buffering effects of money, researchers first depleted participants’ existing self-control resources by asking them to perform a very tedious vowel-cancellation task. In the next phase (the most crucial part of the experiment), participants were asked to form meaningful sentences with four of the five words (“won green the lottery I” = “I won the lottery”). This relatively subtle reminder of money-related concepts was sufficient to improve performance in a subsequent self-control task. Money-related thoughts had boosted self-control and negated the ego-depletion effects of the cancellation task.

If that’s the case, who do you think has more self-control—the rich who has lots of wealth, or the poor does nothing but dreams about winning the lottery?

One thing for sure is that money is not really that evil after all. Thanks to it, whenever you want to resist a temptation, take out your wallet and stare at your cash. If unfortunately you don’t have any, conjuring it up will work as well. Also, I’m off now to make a desktop wallpaper that is filled with money-related concepts and synonyms.

What do you think? Want more great research findings on how to boost your self-control? Check out my other posts on self-control. Also, this site provides a really good summary of all the latest research.

Source: Boucher, H. C., & Kofos, M. N. (2012). The idea of money counteracts ego depletion effects. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 804–810. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.02.003

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Religious Thoughts Can Boost Willpower, Even For Nonbelievers

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