People's daily desires make it harder to resist the urge to check social networks like Facebook and Twitter for updates than to turn down an alcoholic drink or a cigarette. Sleep and sex were the two things people most longed for during the day, but the urges to keep on top of social networks and work were the hardest to resist.
Researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business fitted 205 participants between the ages of 18 and 85 with BlackBerry devices in and around the German city of Würtzburg. Seven times a day over 14 hours for seven consecutive days, the participants were asked to message whether they were experiencing a desire at that moment or had experienced one within the last 30 minutes, what type it was, the strength of it, whether it conflicted with other desires, and whether they resisted or went along with it. 10,558 responses and 7,827 "desire episodes" were reported.
Alcohol, tobacco, and coffee prompted much lower levels of desire despite their addictive properties. Furthermore, people were relatively successful at resisting sports inclinations, sexual urges, and spending impulses. Resisting the desire to work (when it conflicts with other goals such as socialising or leisure activities), which was the hardest along with checking social networks, may be difficult because your job defines your identity, dictates many aspects of your life, and invokes penalties if important duties are not completed.
"Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success," Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Wilhelm Hofmann told The Guardian. The fact sleep and leisure were the most problematic desires suggests "pervasive tension between natural inclinations to rest and relax and the multitude of work and other obligations. Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not 'cost much' to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist. With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs – long-term as well as monetary – and the opportunity may not always be the right one. So, even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still 'steal' a lot of people's time."
Throughout the day your willpower decreases. The researchers found that resisting a particular urge frequently or recently increases the chance of caving in the next time. This is because our constant efforts to resist temptation sap our willpower, which makes cravings even stronger.
The full results of the study will be published later this month in the journal Psychological Science.
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