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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006 Sep;91(3):456-75.

High-maintenance interaction: inefficient social coordination impairs self-regulation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Tasks requiring interpersonal coordination permeate all spheres of life. Although social coordination is sometimes efficient and effortless (low maintenance), at other times it is inefficient and effortful (high maintenance). Across 5 studies, participants experienced either a high- or a low-maintenance interaction with a confederate before engaging in an individual-level task requiring self-regulation. Self-regulation was operationalized with measures of (a) preferences for a challenging task with high reward potential over an easy task with low reward potential (Study 1) and (b) task performance (anagram performance in Study 1, Graduate Record Exam performance in Studies 2 and 3, physical stamina in Study 4, and fine motor control in Study 5). Results uniformly supported the hypothesis that experiencing high-maintenance interaction impairs one's self-regulatory success on subsequent, unrelated tasks. These effects were not mediated through participants' conscious processes and emerged even with a nonconscious manipulation of high-maintenance interaction.

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