Want to resist temptation? Phone a friend

"I can resist anything but temptation." - Oscar Wilde

New research suggests that if the English poet and dramatist had just thought of a good friend, he would have been safe from all blandishments.

Eline de Vries, a PhD student at the University of Groningen, has researched ways to resist the increasing temptations available to us in our new world of unbridled consumption. According to her findings, by thinking of a good friendship, you increase your self-control, thus helping people to say no to temptation.

Endless possibilities

We now live in a world where if you have the urge at any time of the day or night to shop, you can, anywhere in the world. Online shopping is increasing in leaps and bounds: recent studies show that an 8 per cent increase in online sales is expected from 2012 to 2013 in the Netherlands alone.

And if shopping isn’t your bag, then there are the constant temptations presented by our appetites: for food, alcohol and smoking.

All of this is particularly difficult for people with low self-control, either in the moment or all the time. Tiredness can have a huge effect on your ability to resist.

"When you are very tired, it’s much more difficult to resist the temptation to consume," explained De Vries.

Friendship is the key

Studies have shown that friendship has a positive influence on both our mental and physical wellbeing.

This was what prompted De Vries to determine whether friendship also played a role in resisting temptation; which surprisingly it did.

The more usual image of friends and temptation is the suggesting to have "just one more" or someone saying "you might regret it if you don’t get it now," but De Vries research suggests that if you consciously think of friendship, it will increase you self-control.

Taste testing

One experiment De Vries conducted was to get test subjects to think very consciously about friendship by having them describe a situation where they had experienced true friendship.

They then took part in a taste test for new M&Ms and were allowed to eat as many as they wanted in order to judge the taste properly. What they did not know was that the M&Ms were weighed before and afterwards.

Test subjects who had temporarily had less self-control, but who had thought about friendship, ate significantly fewer M&M’s than the control group, who had just described something unrelated to friendship.

Helpful therapies

De Vries considers that her discoveries can be easily developed into therapies for people with problems controlling their urge to consume, be that with shopping, eating or alcohol.

She thinks that the conclusions could also have an immediate effect in daily life. "I can imagine that it would help to have a photo of your best friend in your purse or wallet. That would activate thoughts on a good friendship right at the moment when you are being tempted to buy something."

Source: University of Groningen,

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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