Seven ways to be good: 3) Use your inner voice

We’re all familiar with the little voice in our head that tells us not to be naughty. A 2010 study by researchers at the Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience claimed to show this voice really does play a useful role in self-control. Alexa Tullett’s team instructed participants to say the word ‘computer’ repeatedly with their inner voice thereby preventing it from uttering encouraging words of restraint. Doing this compromised the participants’ performance at a concurrent lab test of self-control (the Go/No Go task, which involves withholding key responses on a minority of trials) far more than did a secondary task that merely involved drawing circles. The researchers concluded: ‘[T]his study provides evidence that when we tell ourselves to “keep going” on the treadmill, or when we count to ten during an argument, we may be helping ourselves to successfully overcome our impulses in favour of goals like keeping fit, and preserving a relationship.’ [further information]

This post is part of the Research Digest’s Sin Week. Each day for Seven days we’ll be posting a confession, a new sin and a way to be good. The festivities coincide with the publication of a feature-length article on the psychology behind the Seven Deadly Sins in this month’s Psychologist magazine.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.