Jonah Lehrer, the writer who produced The New Yorker article on self-control that I use in my lesson (see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One)), has just written about a new study on self-control that shows it can be “contagious.” In other words, the more people see other people exhibiting self-control, the more they will do the same.
Lehrer writes that the study shows that:
…the spread of self-control is mostly driven by the “accessibility” of thoughts about self-control. When we see someone resist the cookie, we’re cognitively inspired, and temporarily aware that resistance is possible. We don’t have to surrender to impulse.
Of course, this is nothing new to teachers who see when a potentially disruptive student enters a class of focused students, he/she will often tend to be more cooperative.
But it is an interesting study. My students clearly have been impacted by the self-control lessons we’ve done, and have spent time thinking about how they can apply it to themselves. I believe that sharing this study with them might help them see that their discipline can also have a positive effect on others. It might provide a little added incentive as they consider their behavior in class, with their friends, and with their families.