Four studies examined how impulse-control beliefs—beliefs regarding one’s ability to regulate visceral impulses, such as hunger, drug craving, and sexual arousal—influence the self-control process. The findings provide evidence for a restraint bias: a tendency for people to overestimate their capacity for impulse control. This biased perception of restraint had important consequences for people’s self-control strategies. Inflated impulse-control beliefs led people to overexpose themselves to temptation, thereby promoting impulsive behavior. In Study 4, for example, the impulse-control beliefs of recovering smokers predicted their exposure to situations in which they would be tempted to smoke. Recovering smokers with more inflated impulse-control beliefs exposed themselves to more temptation, which led to higher rates of relapse 4 months later. The restraint bias offers unique insight into how erroneous beliefs about self-restraint promote impulsive behavior.
Source: “The Restraint Bias: How the Illusion of Self-Restraint Promotes Impulsive Behavior” from Psychological Science, Volume 20 Issue 12, Pages 1523 – 1528