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When tempted by chocolate, friends become partners in crime, study says

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Do your friends bring out the best in you or are they your partners in crime? It’s probably both. For the most part, we surround ourselves with people who either support us and who we can afford to make mistakes in front of. A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research offers some evidence that we become friends with others who make us better people and also don’t condemn us or make us feel guilty when we stray from our path.

The research, announced by University of Chicago Press Journals on May 21,2014, “(Im)moral Support: The Social Outcomes of Parallel Self-Control Decisions,” by authors Michael L. Lowe of Texas A&M University and Kelly L. Haws of Vanderbilt University, assessed when two people decide to use either self-control or self-restraint in a situation and how a 'mutual decision' either way will influence whether they became friends or not.

In one part of the study, the authors randomly grouped individuals into pairs and placed them in a room with instructions to watch and evaluate a short film. They placed a bowl of candy on a table between the two participants and a hidden camera was used to monitor if (and how) they ate the candy. In a situation like this, the two people will either use self-control, both will indulge or one will indulge while the other abstains.

The participants that decided to indulge or abstain together reported liking their partner more than when the study began. Those who ate too much candy on their own actually liked their partner less.

The results show that when there was a mutual decision whether in vice or virtue, there was more connection. The peak boost in connection was actually when the stakes were the highest and the consequences of the action more serious. People bond in moral support; we feel less guilty when someone else is indulging in the same thing we are.

“Our findings provide insights into how consumers can most effectively use others for accountability in trying to achieve important goals, while potentially enhancing their well-being through managing guilt and being able to enjoy smaller indulgences in the company of friends," said the authors.

It goes both ways for the marketers interested in this study, on the one hand, brands can take advantage of this information and offer “friend and family” promotions (though this seems so obvious already) and public policymakers can utilize the same dynamic promoting abstinence on issues of overeating and drug use.

The study confirms a lot of what we already know, but next time temptation finds us when we’re out at that restaurant with friends and that dessert menu is staring us right in the face, we might think twice before ordering double chocolate mousse cake.

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