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Psychol Sci. 2009 Dec;20(12):1523-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02468.x. Epub 2009 Oct 30.

The restraint bias: how the illusion of self-restraint promotes impulsive behavior.

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  • 1Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


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.

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