Does clenching your muscles increase willpower?

October 18, 2010

The next time you feel your willpower slipping as you pass that mouth-watering dessert case, tighten your muscles. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says firming muscles can shore up self-control.

Authors Iris W. Hung (National University of Singapore) and Aparna A. Labroo (University of Chicago) put study participants through a range of self-control dilemmas that involved accepting immediate pain for long-term gain. In one study, participants submerged their hands in an ice bucket to demonstrate pain resistance. In another, participants consumed a healthy but awful-tasting vinegar drink. In a third experiment, study participants decided whether to look at disturbing information about injured children devastated by an earthquake in Haiti and donate money to help. And in a final study, researchers observed actual food choices people made as they shopped for lunch at a local cafeteria.

"Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened--hand, finger, calf, or biceps--while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, attend to the immediately disturbing but essential information, or overcome tempting foods," the authors write.

The authors found that the muscle tightening only helped when the choice aligned with the participants' goals (for example, to have a healthier lifestyle). They also found that the tightening of muscles only helped at the moment people faced the self-control dilemma. (If they did it beforehand, they felt depleted by the time it was time to make a choice.)

For example, in one study, health-conscious participants drank more of a health tonic (one part vinegar, 10 parts water) while they were tightening their muscles and drinking the healthy tonic. Those who were less health conscious were not affected by muscle tightening.

"The mind and the body are so closely tied together, merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower," the authors write. "Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit willpower, facilitate self-control, and improve consumer wellbeing."
-end-
Iris W. Hung and Aparna A. Labroo. "From Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation." Journal of Consumer Research. To receive a preprint of this study, write to JCR@bus.wisc.edu. For further information, see http://ejcr.org.

University of Chicago Press Journals

Related Pain Articles from Brightsurf:

Pain researchers get a common language to describe pain
Pain researchers around the world have agreed to classify pain in the mouth, jaw and face according to the same system.

It's not just a pain in the head -- facial pain can be a symptom of headaches too
A new study finds that up to 10% of people with headaches also have facial pain.

New opioid speeds up recovery without increasing pain sensitivity or risk of chronic pain
A new type of non-addictive opioid developed by researchers at Tulane University and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System accelerates recovery time from pain compared to morphine without increasing pain sensitivity, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

The insular cortex processes pain and drives learning from pain
Neuroscientists at EPFL have discovered an area of the brain, the insular cortex, that processes painful experiences and thereby drives learning from aversive events.

Pain, pain go away: new tools improve students' experience of school-based vaccines
Researchers at the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have teamed up with educators, public health practitioners and grade seven students in Ontario to develop and implement a new approach to delivering school-based vaccines that improves student experience.

Pain sensitization increases risk of persistent knee pain
Becoming more sensitive to pain, or pain sensitization, is an important risk factor for developing persistent knee pain in osteoarthritis (OA), according to a new study by researchers from the Université de Montréal (UdeM) School of Rehabilitation and Hôpital Maisonneuve Rosemont Research Centre (CRHMR) in collaboration with researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

Becoming more sensitive to pain increases the risk of knee pain not going away
A new study by researchers in Montreal and Boston looks at the role that pain plays in osteoarthritis, a disease that affects over 300 million adults worldwide.

Pain disruption therapy treats source of chronic back pain
People with treatment-resistant back pain may get significant and lasting relief with dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulation therapy, an innovative treatment that short-circuits pain, suggests a study presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2018 annual meeting.

Sugar pills relieve pain for chronic pain patients
Someday doctors may prescribe sugar pills for certain chronic pain patients based on their brain anatomy and psychology.

Peripheral nerve block provides some with long-lasting pain relief for severe facial pain
A new study has shown that use of peripheral nerve blocks in the treatment of Trigeminal Neuralgia (TGN) may produce long-term pain relief.

Read More: Pain News and Pain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.