When Guidelines Become Demands: Highly Restrictive Standards Promote Self-Regulatory Failure
Buzinski, Steven G.
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Self-regulation is often defined as the process of altering one's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors in order to attain, or maintain, some desired standard (Vohs & Baumeister, 2004). As such, the standards or goals that one commits to influence the likelihood of self-regulatory success or failure (Baumeister, Schmeichel, & Vohs, 2007). Three experiments were conducted to explore whether framing a goal as highly restrictive leads to decrements in self-regulation (hypothesis 1), and whether or not these goals increase ego depletion (hypothesis 2). Study 1 demonstrated that a highly restrictive goal frame caused an increased valuation of goal-damaging temptations. Study 2 replicated and extended Study 1 by demonstrating that highly restrictive goal framing caused greater temptation indulgence as well. Study 3 tested whether or not highly restrictive goals increase levels of ego depletion, a state associated with self-regulatory failure (Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009), but did not support the hypothesis. The role of psychological reactance (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981) in these results, as well as possible future research, is discussed.