Ceasar's Mind

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Posts Tagged ‘intrinsic motivation

Broken Windows Revisited

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Phrased in the sense of external cues giving permission to express internal desires, I realized that the Broken Windows theory showed up in more places than I had originally thought.

First off, consider diets. I recently read an article at Alternet that explained that diets don’t work, and they actually make us fatter. I’m not sure I entirely agree, but there were a few gems to be gleaned, one, particularly interesting, was a study conducted by Janet Polivy and Peter Herman in 1999. In the experiment, Polivy and Herman created two groups, one composed of dieters and the other of non-dieters. Then they split each of those groups into three, with one group told to drink one milkshake, another group told to drink two milkshakes, and finally a control group which did not drink any milkshakes.  Then they offered the participants as much ice cream as they wanted, and observed. The results are interesting, though hardly surprising:

The results revealed that the nondieters ate as you might expect: those who hadn’t consumed any milkshakes ate the most ice cream, those who’d consumed one milkshake ate less ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the least. The dieters, by contrast, reacted in the opposite way. Those who were offered no milkshakes before the taste test ate small amounts of ice cream, those who drank one shake ate more ice cream, and those who’d consumed two milkshakes ate the most ice cream!

This makes sense in light of the Broken Windows theory. The milkshakes gave permission to the dieters to pig out a little. As all of us have probably been through this before, it’s very easy to understand what happened- the diet is hard to maintain and deprives of sweets, and when we get a little, we think “I already screwed up, why not enjoy myself a little.” (It also doesn’t help that sugar increases blood sugar, which increases appetite.) On that note, truth is diets can work, but you have to actually stay on it.

Likewise, this phenomenon appears when doing homework in the form of distraction. Since we never really want to do our homework, one Wikipedia entry turns into five, which turns into Facebook, email, Youtube, internet games, and so on, usually until a good deal of time has been wasted and we suddenly realize we actually have something worth doing.

Those examples considered, it’s actually quite clear that the theory pops up a lot.  Furthermore, those examples reveal a practical piece of insight into improving ourselves a little- that is, don’t ever give into desire even just a little when you have a goal that requires discipline.

Written by Ceasar Bautista

2011/02/16 at 02:15