To Resist Temptation, Forget Guilt and Think Positive

DEBORAH MACINNIS, Vice Dean for Academic Research, professor of business administration and marketing

“Anytime a VIP gets caught with his (or her) pants down — Arnold Schwarzenegger or Anthony Weiner, for example — you can almost hear the collective “huh?” around the nation’s water coolers, on its Twitter feeds and shared over its backyard fences.

What in the heck were those guys thinking? Where were they when John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton and so many others crashed and burned? Why wasn’t the very real risk of shame and humiliation enough to stop them cold?

More than 2,000 years ago Socrates asserted in Plato’s “Phaedrus” that two horses contend for our souls — one, unruly, passionate and constantly pulling in the direction of pleasure, and the other restrained, dutiful, obedient and governed by a sense of shame. But a set of studies I conducted with two other researchers at the USC Marshall School of Business suggests that Socrates was wrong, at least about Horse No. 2. Humans may be pulled hard toward pleasure, but shame isn’t the countervailing force that reins us in.

In fact, the more we anticipate wagging fingers, public pillory and guilt, the worse we’re likely to do when it comes to self-control. If we focus on the pride that comes from good behavior, we make better choices. By far.”

For the full op-ed, visit the Los Angeles Times.

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