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Self-control failure scenarios in daily life: Developing a taxonomy of goals and temptations


Our aim was to develop a taxonomy of commonly experienced goals and temptations. We expected to find evidence of interpersonal self-control challenges and avoidance temptations (e.g., avoid a difficult conversation), as these are anecdotally frequent but under represented in the psychological literature. In Study 1, we used qualitative coding to develop a taxonomy, after asking people to describe a goal and a competing temptation in four recent personal situations involving self-control failure. From these narrative descriptions, we identified categories of goals and temptations and then coded each scenario. We then verified the frequency of these goal and temptation categories (Study 2). Findings revealed many instances of interpersonal self-control challenges and some evidence of avoidance temptations, as well as the common phenomenon of being tempted to “not do the goal.” We discuss the variability in how people describe their goals in terms of approach and avoidance framing with the intention of outlining avenues for future research on commonly experienced self-control scenarios.

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  1. In the service of fulling describing self-control challenge situations, we retained all scenarios in subsequent analyses, including those depicting successes (even though those were counter to the instructions). Conclusions do not change in any substantive way by excluding “success” scenarios.


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Funding was provided by John Templeton Foundation.

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Correspondence to Jennifer C. Veilleux.

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Veilleux, J.C., Hill, M.A., Skinner, K.D. et al. Self-control failure scenarios in daily life: Developing a taxonomy of goals and temptations. Motiv Emot 42, 653–670 (2018).

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  • Self-control
  • Goal
  • Temptation
  • Approach
  • Avoidance