Everyday temptations: an experience sampling study of desire, conflict, and self-control

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jun;102(6):1318-35. doi: 10.1037/a0026545. Epub 2011 Dec 12.


How often and how strongly do people experience desires, to what extent do their desires conflict with other goals, and how often and successfully do people exercise self-control to resist their desires? To investigate desire and attempts to control desire in everyday life, we conducted a large-scale experience sampling study based on a conceptual framework integrating desire strength, conflict, resistance (use of self-control), and behavior enactment. A sample of 205 adults wore beepers for a week. They furnished 7,827 reports of desire episodes and completed personality measures of behavioral inhibition system/behavior activation system (BIS/BAS) sensitivity, trait self-control, perfectionism, and narcissistic entitlement. Results suggest that desires are frequent, variable in intensity, and largely unproblematic. Those urges that do conflict with other goals tend to elicit resistance, with uneven success. Desire strength, conflict, resistance, and self-regulatory success were moderated in multiple ways by personality variables as well as by situational and interpersonal factors such as alcohol consumption, the mere presence of others, and the presence of others who already had enacted the desire in question. Whereas personality generally had a stronger impact on the dimensions of desire that emerged early in its course (desire strength and conflict), situational factors showed relatively more influence on components later in the process (resistance and behavior enactment). In total, these findings offer a novel and detailed perspective on the nature of everyday desires and associated self-regulatory successes and failures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Narcissism
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Personality
  • Sampling Studies
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult