Low Self-Control Leads to Less Selfish Behavior in Relationships

C. Price
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New research is challenging longstanding beliefs about our impulse to serve ourselves over the needs of others.

While psychologists have long felt our natural instinct is to be more selfish, the study from the VU University in Amsterdam may upset that interpretation.

For the study, which was published in a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers sought out married individuals who had both high and low self-control ratings, based on a screening questionnaire.

This distinction is seen as important, as self-sacrifice is commonly viewed as an act of high self-control.

As part of the research, couples were told they would have to converse with 12 different strangers and present them with embarrassing questions.

While this was never carried out, the participants with high self-control usually opted to split the burden. Those with low self-control were found to assume more of the burden themselves.


“Those with low self-control were found

to assume more of the burden.”

While the participants with low self-control were surprisingly found to sacrifice more for their partners, they were simultaneously found to be less magnanimous in areas like forgiveness.

“For decades psychologists have assumed that the first impulse is selfish and that it takes self-control to behave in a pro-social manner,” said lead researcher Francesca Righetti. “We did not believe that this was true in every context, and especially not in close relationships.”

Righetti said this issue is an ongoing and common one for couples, where the desires of one partner often take a backseat to what the other partner wishes.

“Whether it’s about which activities to engage in during free time, whose friends to go out with or which city to live in, relationship partners often face a divergence of interests,” she said.

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