The restraint bias: How the illusion of self-restraint promotes impulsive behavior

Loran F. Nordgren, Frenk Van Harreveld, Joop Van Der Pligt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Four studies examined how impulse-control beliefs - beliefs regarding one's ability to regulate visceral impulses, such as hunger, drug craving, and sexual arousal - influence the self-control process. The findings provide evidence for a restraint bias: a tendency for people to overestimate their capacity for impulse control. This biased perception of restraint had important consequences for people's self-control strategies. Inflated impulse-control beliefs led people to overexpose themselves to temptation, thereby promoting impulsive behavior. In Study 4, for example, the impulse-control beliefs of recovering smokers predicted their exposure to situations in which they would be tempted to smoke. Recovering smokers with more inflated impulse-control beliefs exposed themselves to more temptation, which led to higher rates of relapse 4 months later. The restraint bias offers unique insight into how erroneous beliefs about self-restraint promote impulsive behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1523-1528
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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