The effects of priming representations of close relationship partners on self-control performance

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Mann, Simmi
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Through a fundamental need to belong, individuals are drawn to various social connections and interactions. These interactions have been shown to influence behaviour, cognitions, affect, and self-control of the participants involved. Although research on the negative effects of social interactions on self-control resources is plentiful, the influence on the same resources that positive relationship partners can have has been slowly emerging. With self-control crucially contributing to overall personal well-being and success in various domains of one’s life, it is imperative to understand factors that can help strengthen resources when they are weakened. Across two studies, I examined whether cognitively depleted participants primed with representations of close relationship partners, both subtly and explicitly, were able to recover self-control strength. In Study 1, priming depleted individuals with images of their dating partner (versus neutral content) led to increased performance on a self-control task. More specifically, an explicit or subtle prime both elicited increased self-control performance compared to instances in which individuals were primed with neutral content. Study 2 varied the relationship type to include close others, dating partners, and acquaintances, while also employing a different method of priming and a second measure of self-control. Results indicated that priming close others and dating partners lead to greater self-control performance than priming acquaintances for depleted individuals. In both studies, potential mediators of the prime by self-control effect were explored; however only Study 2 revealed a significant mediator of inclusion of other in self (or self-other overlap). These findings suggest that both subtle and overt reminders of close others provide important resources that attenuate instances of cognitive depletion. Implications for future research are discussed.
close relationships, self-control