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Self-Control Influenced by Others

Updated on February 24, 2016

When you feel so proud of yourself for not eating or drinking too much, don’t be in such a hurry to pat yourself on the back. A new study shows that self-control is actually contagious!

Have you ever noticed that if you are having a meal with a person who isn’t eating very much, that you will likely not eat as much as you would eat alone (or with others)? By the same token, have you ever noticed that if you’re trying to eat less but you are with people who are pigging out, that you are more likely to eat more? Well, this is not an excuse to not take responsibility for your own actions. Far from it. No, this is just the reality of human behavior. And a recent study proved the point:

“In a series of studies in a lab setting, researchers found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely show the same restraint.”

Even thinking about someone with good self-control is powerful enough to influence our behavior! If I know that someone I know has started working out in the mornings and has stopped eating breads and sweets, I will be more likely to exert more self-control in my own life. Researchers studied the extent of that effect. It doesn’t take very much for our behavior to be affected by others:

“The effect is so powerful, in fact, that just seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.”


In one study, one group of participants watched someone choose a carrot rather than a cookie from a plate and another group watched someone do the opposite, choose the cookie. On a later test of self-control, those who watched the person choosing the carrots were more likely to exert self control.

Researchers remind us that the effect of others influence on our own behavior does not mean that we are not accountable for our own actions. We are. However, the degree to which it affects us may be enough to make us eat an extra cookie at a party, or to go workout at the end of a long day. The influence is more of a “nudge toward or away from temptation.”

So if you have healthy friends, spend time with them, or just think about them when you know you’re going to need a little extra encouragement in that area. Because they’re all going the same direction. Don’t get mad at your non-healthy friends for influencing you to “do the wrong thing” because they eat fast food on a regular basis. The lesson of this study is that both spending time with and thinking about people who have self-control can influence us. We all know someone who exhibits more self-control than we do. You don’t have to have dinner with that person all the time; thinking about their self-control is enough.

Self-Control in Health Behaviours


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    • shehealthy profile image

      Helena 22 months ago from USA

      thank you for your comment Kathy.

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      The Stages Of ME 22 months ago


      Good points and very true, it does help to lead by example and if we work together we could be a much healthier nation. Thanks for sharing :)