September 6th, 2001


If it feels bad, do it!

Emotional Distress Regulation Takes
Precedence Over Impulse Control: If You
Feel Bad, Do It!

Dianne M. Tice
Department of Psychology
Case Western Reserve University

Ellen Bratslavsky
Department of Psychology
Case Western Reserve University

Roy F. Baumeister
Department of Psychology
Case Western Reserve University

Why do people's impulse controls break down
during emotional distress? Some theories propose
that distress impairs one's motivation or one's
ability to exert self-control, and some postulate
self-destructive intentions arising from the
moods. Contrary to those theories, Three
experiments found that believing that one's bad
mood was frozen (unchangeable) eliminated the
tendency to eat fattening snacks (Experiment 1),
seek immediate gratification (Experiment 2), and
engage in frivolous procrastination (Experiment
3). The implication is that when people are upset,
they indulge immediate impulses to make
themselves feel better, which amounts to giving
short-term affect regulation priority over other
self-regulatory goals.

An interesting passage:

Children who were instructed to reminisce about a sad event
were subsequently less able to resist the temptation to play
with a forbidden toy than were children who reminisced
about a happy event ( Fry, 1975 ). More generally, when
people face a choice between immediate small rewards and
larger but delayed rewards, emotional distress causes people
to shift toward the former ( Mischel, Ebbesen, & Zeiss, 1973
; Underwood, Moore, & Rosenhan, 1973 ; Wertheim &
Schwartz, 1983 ).

Would you go to bed with me tonight?

R. D. Clark & Hatfield (1989) had attractive undergraduates approach members of the opposite sex on a U.S. college campus and state:

"I have been noticing you around campus. I find you very attractive. Then the person would ask one of three questions:

(a) Would you go out with me tonight?
(b) Would you come over to my apartment tonight?
(c) Would you go to bed with me tonight?

There was a difference between men's and women's responses to these questions:

Women's responses: (a) 50% yes, (b) 6% yes, (c) 0% yes
Men's responses: (a) 50% yes, (b) 69% yes, (c) 75% yes

Typical men's comments re bed:

"Why do we have to wait until tonight?"
"I can't tonight, but tomorrow would be fine."

Men who said 'No' apologized:

"I'm married."
"I'm going with someone."

Typical women's comments (never apologized):

"You've got to be kidding."
"What's wrong with you? Leave me alone."

From Clark, R.D. and E. Hatfield."Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers." Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 2:39-55.


Please don't feed the humans

An excerpt from Mean Genes by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan.

Chantek is a smart, lovable orangutan who
lives at the Atlanta zoo. Trained in sign language, he has a
vocabulary of more than 150 words, and he is considered a decent
artist. Now in his twenties, he was born at the Yerkes Primate
Center in Atlanta and then spent nine years being raised like a
human-complete with diapers and infant formula.

Growing up in this human setting, Chantek became really fat,
weighing in at five hundred pounds, roughly three times his ideal
size. Afraid that the massive bulk would collapse his lungs,
scientists placed him on a strict diet. Formerly five hundred
pounds of fun, he became four hundred pounds of anger. During the
diet, his favorite sign language symbol became "candy." He refused
to draw and instead ate the crayons given for his artistic use.

While on his diet, Chantek even pulled off an escape. He
threatened and could have easily killed a janitor, but chose
instead to attack a 55-gallon drum of food. He was eventually
found sitting next to the up-ended food barrel, using all four
limbs to stuff monkey chow into his mouth.

Chantek is unique, not only for his human contact and his
linguistic and artistic abilities but also for his weight. You
see, there are no fat orangutans outside zoos and research
centers. Wild orangutans, despite sharing Chantek's genetic zest
for a fine meal, maintain a svelte 160 pounds or so because food
is relatively scarce and difficult to obtain in the jungles of

Like Chantek, many of us have trouble staying skinny and
healthy. As we'll see, easy living with plentiful food is the
source of weight control problems for humans and captive
orangutans alike. ...

"I just want to have more money than Larry Ellison" -- Jim Clark

Be sure to check out the notes section for Mean Genes

I reminded Clark that he had said that once he became a real, after-tax billionaire he'd retire. He now said, without missing a beat: "I just want
to make more money than Larry Ellison. Then I'll stop." This was news. I pointed out that he'd never before mentioned this ambition. "I just
want to have more money than Larry Ellison," he said again. "I don't know why. But once I have more money than Larry Ellison I'll be

Larry Ellison, the C.E.O. of Oracle, the biggest software company in the valley, was worth about $9 billion; Clark was, just then, worth a bit
more than $3 billion. On the other hand, Ellison's wealth was completely tied up in Oracle stock, which had mostly missed out on the Internet
boom. At the rate Clark's wealth was growing he'd pass Ellison within six months. I pointed this out and asked the obvious question:

"What happens after you have more than Larry Ellison? Would you want to have more money than, say, Bill Gates?... Oh, no," Clark said,
waving my question to the side of the room where the ridiculous ideas gather to commiserate with one another. "That'll never happen." A few
minutes later, after the conversation had turned to other matters, he came clean. "You know," he said, "just for one moment, I would kind of
like to have the most. Just for one tiny moment."

Why do relationships end?

From Monash University psych department:

Femlee (1995) studied the causes of breakups in university students,
and found that in 30% of cases the qualities which attracted people to
the relationship in the first place are also those that they ended up
most disliking about the person. These were qualities such as being
unusual, exciting and unpredictable, which represented a "fatal
attraction". An approach termed relational dialectics proposes that
close relationships are characterised by a tension between opposing
forces, such as autonomy and connectedness. So, we desire excitement
and newness in a relationship, but also being safe, secure and
understood. If a relationship begins with a heavy emphasis on one end
of a dimension, such as excitement and novelty, it will need over time
to be balanced by more predictability for the relationship to survive.

This raises the question, can a relationship appear to outsiders
doomed from the outset, while the lovers are blind to this
possibility? This question was studied by Macdonald and Ross
(1999). It would come as no surprise to learn that lovers were more
optimistic about the prospects of their relationship than observers
such as roommates and parents. Both groups of observers in fact were
more accurate than those in the relationship when asked to
specifically predict whether the relationship would last six months or
a year. However relationship members' assessments of relationship
quality were much better predictors of relationship stability, and
were also better predictors than observers' assessments of
relationship quality. So, love is not totally blind, in that the
lovers were better able to judge their relationships than outsiders,
but their direct predictions showed an optimistic bias reflecting
their aspirations for the relationship.