Shifting focus a lot at work could wreck your diet

May 06, 2011 By Nanci Hellmich

People who continually change gears to do different tasks may find it reduces their concentration and self-control in other areas of their lives.

Findings from a new study show that frequently switching your mind-set or focus uses a lot of self-control. This may leave you with less ability to control your temper, to resist cheating on your diet or to continue your exercise routine, says Ryan Hamilton, assistant professor of marketing at Emory University.

If staff cutbacks at work make it necessary for employees to do more different kinds of tasks, that could have an impact, he says. And it could apply to people at home, too.

"If you are checking your BlackBerry while helping your kids do their homework, you are switching tasks that require different perspectives. That can be taxing on the executive function of your brain and reduce your ability to use self-control in other areas of your life."

Hamilton and colleagues at two other universities conducted five experiments involving 300 people in which the participants were required to do tasks that required either switching their mind-set or maintaining a consistent mind-set.

Afterward, the researchers measured participants' ability to do other tasks that required self-control, discipline and endurance.

In one experiment, the participants played a simple geometric-shape evaluation game. One group was rewarded with points for being right. Another group was penalized for answering incorrectly. A third group had to switch numerous times between the two scoring systems.

Then all attempted to complete a mathematical puzzle that had no solution. Participants who had to use different scoring systems, thus changing their mind-set, gave up on the puzzle in an average of five minutes. Those in the other groups worked on it for an average of 10 minutes before they gave up.

"The group that switched mind-sets wasn't as persistent. That shows a failure of , which requires self-control," Hamilton says.

In another experiment, bilingual people were asked to answer a questionnaire in either a single language or in two different languages. Afterward, they held a hand grip as long as they could. The group that answered in a single language held the grip 19 seconds longer than those in the group that switched languages.

"Physical is another thing that requires ," Hamilton says. This is especially important for exercise, he says.

Kathleen Vohs, another author of the study and a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, says this research helps explain why "people who approach tasks with a persistent way of operating ... may actually be really smart, because they are conserving their mental energy to do the tough stuff."

The findings are reported in the May issue of "Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes."

Explore further: Depression increasing across the country

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Got sugar? Glucose affects our ability to resist temptation

Dec 03, 2007

New research from a lab at Florida State University reveals that self-control takes fuel — literally. When we exercise it, resisting temptations to misbehave, our fuel tank is depleted, making subsequent efforts at self-control ...

On a diet? You'll spend more on impulse purchases

Mar 07, 2007

People who exercise self control in some way, such as dieting or trying not to look at or think about something, will tend to make more impulse purchases if given the opportunity, explains a study from the March issue of ...

Bilingual benefits reach beyond communication

Nov 09, 2010

Speaking two languages can be handy when traveling abroad, applying for jobs, and working with international colleagues, but how does bilingualism influence the way we think? In the current issue of Psychological Science in ...

Could learning self-control be enjoyable?

Sep 20, 2010

When it comes to self-control, consumers in the United States are in trouble. But a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says there's hope; we just need a little help to see self-regulation as fun.

Violent video games leave teenagers emotionally aroused

Nov 28, 2006

A new study has found that adolescents who play violent video games may exhibit lingering effects on brain function, including increased activity in the region of the brain that governs emotional arousal and decreased activity ...

Recommended for you

Lift weights, improve your memory

3 hours ago

Here's another reason why it's a good idea to hit the gym: it can improve memory. A new Georgia Institute of Technology study shows that an intense workout of as little as 20 minutes can enhance episodic ...

Fat chats: The good, the bad and the ugly comments

5 hours ago

Cyberbullying and hurtful 'fat jokes' are disturbingly prevalent in the social media environment, especially on Twitter, says Wen-ying Sylvia Chou of the National Institutes of Health in the US. Chou is lead ...

Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent some forms of depression

8 hours ago

Patients with increased inflammation, including those receiving cytokines for medical treatment, have a greatly increased risk of depression. For example, a 6-month treatment course of interferon-alpha therapy ...

User comments : 0