Does thinking about how others can help you make you lazy?

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Three studies demonstrate a novel phenomenon—self-regulatory outsourcing—in which thinking about how other people can be instrumental (i.e., helpful) for a given goal undermines motivation to expend effort on that goal. In Experiment 1, participants who thought about how their partner helped them with health goals (as opposed to career goals) planned to spend less time and effort on health goals in the upcoming week. This pattern was stronger for depleted participants than for nondepleted participants. In Experiment 2, participants who thought about how their partner helped them with academic-achievement goals procrastinated more, leaving themselves less time for an academic task, than did participants in two control conditions. This pattern was stronger for participants who were told that procrastinating would drain their resources for the academic task than for participants who were told that procrastinating would not drain their resources for that task. In Experiment 3, participants who decreased their effort after thinking of an instrumental significant other reported higher relationship commitment to that individual than did participants who did not decrease their effort. The possibility for shared (or transactive) self-regulation is discussed.

Source: “Outsourcing Self-Regulation” from Psychological Science

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