Giving Up Something For Lent? Shhh.

What Women Really Think
March 7 2014 5:55 PM

Giving Up Something For Lent? Shhh.

85080958-buisnessman-checks-his-blackberry-as-he-leaves-st
Hope he's not on Twitter!

Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Hello, Gentile friends! Have you decided what you are abstaining from for Lent yet? (Probably! It’s already Friday. Lent started Wednesday.) If you want to increase your chances of trampling temptation into the dirt for the next 38 days, a 2010 paper from the journal Psychological Science recommends you do the following once you’ve landed on a sacrifice: Tell no one.

The paper reports on two interlocking studies by researchers from New York University. In the first, 49 first-year psychology students wrote down two academic goals each (e.g. “I will take reading assignments more seriously” or “I will unlock the mysteries of the human mind”). Half the students stood by while the experimenter read their words back to them. The remaining students were told the goal question had been included by mistake and that their responses would be thrown away. Fast forward one week: All of the participants returned to the lab and notched the days on which they’d conformed to their resolutions. You might expect those in the first group to report better track records—they were the ones whose goals were on social display—but the opposite was true. Students whose words had remained private did a better job honoring their plans, while those who’d been exposed showed less willpower.

Advertisement

In a second study, 32 law students ranked the statement, “I intend to make the best possible use of educational opportunities in law” on a scale of one to nine. (All but two wrote down scores higher than five.) Here is the New Republic’s Alice Robb:

For half of the students—the ones randomly assigned to the “social reality” condition—the psychologist would read the students’ responses back to them, as if to confirm they’d heard correctly. In the “no-social reality” group, the aspiring lawyers simply dropped their responses into a box, ensuring they’d remain anonymous. Next, the law students were asked to help the psychologists design a study package for use in law schools, and were given 45 minutes to try to solve a series of cases being considered for inclusion, but were told they could leave earlier if they wanted. The group whose intentions remained anonymous spent longer working on the cases.

The researchers argue that simply articulating your dream helps you feel closer to attaining it. You “derive a sense of accomplishment” from having publicly stated a goal; all the messy details of follow-through suddenly seem less important. (You’ve got a plan, you’re practically already there! The brass tacks will take care of themselves.) Also, voicing one’s intentions can be a way of solidifying a persona—I am the type of student who aspires to X—that ultimately makes the X redundant. If everyone already knows you think “educational opportunities in law” matter, then why bother working late?

Robb tied the study’s findings to Lent to conclude that, if you wish to share your abnegations on social media, you could be strewing rocks across your own path to virtue (as well as irritating your friends). She also reveals the top ten most-mentioned sacrifices on Twitter this year, according to a list by OpenBible’s Stephen Smith:

1. School
2. Chocolate
3. Twitter
4. Swearing
5. Alcohol
6. Soda
7. Social networking
8. Sweets
9. Fast food
10. Lent

They may be destined to fail, but at least these Tweeps haven’t given up their sense of humor.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 23 2014 6:00 AM Naked and Afraid Prudie offers advice on whether a young boy should sleep in the same room with his nude grandfather.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Books
Sept. 23 2014 7:14 AM Fighting the Sophomore Slump, Five Novels at a Time Announcing the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand with Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.