How Self-Control Shapes the Meaning of Choice
14 Pages Posted: 3 May 2017 Last revised: 28 May 2017
Date Written: April 30, 2017
Self-control is an important driver of choice, but might it also change choice’s meaning, making it seem less indicative of preference? Decades of research suggest that preference and choice are often intertwined. Choice often originates from one’s preferences. As a result, choice is often seen as a reflection of preference, leading people to infer their preferences by observing their own choices. We suggest that self-control attenuates this process. Because self-control often overrides personal desires in favor of external constraints, norms, and long-term considerations, we propose that self-control is associated with a sense of attenuated correspondence between choice and individual preference. Five experiments suggest that when the notion of self-control is salient, people are less likely to see their choices as reflecting their preferences or to infer preference from previous choices. As a result, evoking the notion of self-control attenuates the tendency to view choice as indicative of preference, even in contexts unrelated to where self-control was originally evoked. Thus, self-control shapes not only choice itself, but also the perceived meaning of choice.
Keywords: Self-control, Inferences, Choice, Preference, Self-perception
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