Will to resist temptations, achieve goals more trustworthy than using apps, study finds

People relying on willpower to resist temptations and achieve goals are perceived as more trustworthy compared to those resorting to “commitment strategies” such as using apps, a new research has shown.

In one experiment, participants were found to judge hypothetical users of commitment strategies as less trustworthy despite recognising that sometimes these strategies are more effective than willpower alone, researchers said.

Approaches involving commitment strategies have been shown to be successful for a varied range of goals such as quitting smoking, weight loss, academic achievement and saving money, according to Ariella Kristal of the Columbia University, US, and lead author of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Commitment strategies can also include having to pay a fine upon engaging in unwanted behaviour or relying on apps that help people avoid websites like Facebook and Instagram.

However, the researchers believe that resorting to commitment strategies could possibly signal a weakness in an individual’s character, or a past failure, because of which they are having to rely on external incentives, rather than overcoming self control problems on their own.

“Past failures of self control can be seen by others as moral failures. Because morality is an important component of integrity in particular, and trustworthiness more broadly, people who rely on commitment strategies may be viewed as less trustworthy than those who simply use willpower,” Kristal said.

Through online experiments, the researchers involved more than 2,800 participants in the US for their study.

The participants were asked to rate the integrity of individuals in hypothetical situations who attempted to achieve a certain goal either through willpower or through a commitment strategy.

In one such situation, the participants were asked to judge people relying on willpower to avoid eating junk food or drinking alcohol, while in another people either displayed self control or depended on an app to avoid using Facebook or Instagram.

Generally, the researchers found that individuals described as depending on commitment strategies to achieve goals were judged to be less trustworthy than those relying on willpower alone.

In another experiment, the participants were found to be less likely to resort to a commitment strategy, if they had a hint that others might find out.

“People appear particularly hesitant to adopt commitment strategies when their use will be made public and, while not as high, people’s resistance continues to remain elevated even when the use of strategies will be kept private,” Kristal said.

The researchers said that studying interpersonal judgments can help understand why people may fail to adopt these beneficial commitment strategies and how they could be better promoted for effective use.