Does clenching your muscles increase willpower?

October 18, 2010

The next time you feel your willpower slipping as you pass that mouth-watering dessert case, tighten your muscles. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says firming muscles can shore up self-control.

Authors Iris W. Hung (National University of Singapore) and Aparna A. Labroo (University of Chicago) put study participants through a range of self-control dilemmas that involved accepting immediate pain for long-term gain. In one study, participants submerged their hands in an ice bucket to demonstrate pain . In another, participants consumed a healthy but awful-tasting vinegar drink. In a third experiment, study participants decided whether to look at disturbing information about injured children devastated by an earthquake in Haiti and donate money to help. And in a final study, researchers observed actual people made as they shopped for lunch at a local cafeteria.

"Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened—hand, finger, calf, or biceps—while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, attend to the immediately disturbing but essential information, or overcome tempting foods," the authors write.

The authors found that the tightening only helped when the choice aligned with the participants' goals (for example, to have a healthier lifestyle). They also found that the tightening of muscles only helped at the moment people faced the self-control dilemma. (If they did it beforehand, they felt depleted by the time it was time to make a choice.)

For example, in one study, health-conscious participants drank more of a health tonic (one part vinegar, 10 parts water) while they were tightening their muscles and drinking the healthy tonic. Those who were less health conscious were not affected by muscle tightening.

"The mind and the body are so closely tied together, merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower," the authors write. "Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit , facilitate self-control, and improve consumer wellbeing."

Explore further: Don't throw the candy out: Temptation leads to moderation

More information: Iris W. Hung and Aparna A. Labroo. "From Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation." Journal of Consumer Research.

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not rated yet Oct 18, 2010
when i do side dumbell raises i want to prevent a shrug like movement where the momentum of swinging the bodybackward and the biceps, front delt and traps kick in, so, instead i use clenching/tensing of the antagonist muscles, lats and the abs to actually pull the trapezius downwards as i raise the dumbells to the side, while keeping the core tight, This makes the dumbells feel twice as heavy, but imho twice as effective for side delt caps, also that full body clenching indeed gives you the willpower to grunt through sets of heavy strict sets your body says it cannot handle or only in a cheating manner, but it can! Tip: do 1 arm dumbell raises to further reduce trap involvement and zoom in on that firehydrant caps

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