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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2001 Jan;80(1):53-67.

Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: if you feel bad, do it!

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 44106, USA.


Why do people's impulse controls break down during emotional distress? Some theories propose that distress impairs one's motivation or one's ability to exert self-control, and some postulate self-destructive intentions arising from the moods. Contrary to those theories, Three experiments found that believing that one's bad mood was frozen (unchangeable) eliminated the tendency to eat fattening snacks (Experiment 1), seek immediate gratification (Experiment 2), and engage in frivolous procrastination (Experiment 3). The implication is that when people are upset, they indulge immediate impulses to make themselves feel better, which amounts to giving short-term affect regulation priority over other self-regulatory goals.

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