Restraint Bias

Study Proposal #6: Restraint Bias (Nordgren et. al) (C) | 23OCT13


Restraint bias identifies how people tend to overestimate their capability to control impulses. I claim that, as suggested by the authors, “enduring shifts in impulse-control beliefs” can be created. People’s inflated self-control in a cold state can be reduced by instilling realistic self control beliefs. In other words, the Alcoholic Anonymous tenet of admitting powerlessness is, at its core, effective. I claim that priming about powerlessness reduces the effect of the restraint bias by creating personal awareness around compulsion.

The game Civilization will be used for this study to simulate larger relationships between restraint bias and addictive substances like alcohol. There is a phenomenon where players often are caught wanting to play “one-more turn” of this strategy game, often leading to all night sessions. One of the reasons for the “one-more turn” phenomenon is because of the difference between a hot and cold state in the game. The beginning of turns offer many stimuli and options for action, whereas the end of turns offers only the decision to proceed to the next turn. Because of it being turn based, we can easily look at how much the choice to complete one more discrete turn can lead interference with the completion of other goals.


A 2×2 experimental matrix with testing on a population with experience playing the game Civilization 5 be sufficient. Each participant will be asked to fill out a survey about their experience playing the game to find out how many hours they dedicate to the game, as well as confidence in their writing speed and quality. Participants will then be told they are completing a study on the realism of the AI in the game.

There will be a 30 minute session of playing the game, then a 5 minute break for an interview with the experimenter. After, they will have a final 20 minute period to play and write 250 words of reflection on the AI. One group will be primed before the first session that players are powerless over choosing to take “one more turn”. This has led to high rates of non-completion of the final reflection task, compromising the study. They will be asked to acknowledge that they are powerless. During the 5 minute break the game will be paused and the screen turned off, imitating a true cold state. The experimenter will ask participants in both group how much time they will allot to each task (writing and playing) in the 20 minutes session. A clock will be in the room. The prediction will be compared to the actual time played, and when playing stopped.

Experiment structure / predictions not primed primed
Break reflection for second half predict 50% of time playing predict 90% of time playing
Time played in second half 80%  & word count requirement unmet 50% & unconfident writers may not play


    If priming about powerlessness to resist temptation in a cold-state is effective, then primed players will spend less of the second trial period playing the game and will set more time aside for writing because they will choose to expose themselves to fewer of the hot states, ie. new turns, sooner.


These results would imply that priming about a restraint bias has will persist into cold states and will reduce the occurrence of giving into compulsion. This would be particularly useful knowledge in the realm of treating addictions, particularly as they relate to new media. Reminding people that they will have difficulty limiting the amount of time they spend playing a video game or watching netflix may discourage making purchases or turning on televisions.

question, agree or disagree

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