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Self-Control Can Invite More Burden


People with high self-control are relied on more, asked to do a greater share of work, viewed as liking hard word and hard work being easy for them, and end up feeling burdened by others reliance.


“People tend to rely more on—to expect and ask more of— others with high self-control. They also view the work of others with high self-control as easier and requiring less effort. Furthermore, the current research suggests that despite their capable nature, people high in self-control feel burdened by others’ reliance.”

Koval, C. Z., vanDellen, M. R., Fitzsimons, G. M., & Ranby, K. W. (2015). The burden of responsibility: Interpersonal costs of high self-control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(5), 750–766.

Research Story

Four researchers from Duke, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado Denver did 6 studies to explore whether having high self-control can come at the cost of becoming burdened by other people’s reliance on them.

In each of these studies they set up a high and low self-control situation for an individual we’ll call Sam. For example in in one study students read a story about Sam who was perusing itunes for a free podcast and either spent a lot of money on music or resisted the tempation. In another story Sam was either good or bad at saving.

Stude #1: participants (51) thought the high self-control Sam would perform higher in a group project and that he liked difficult, challenging work.

Study #2: participants (250) expected high self-control Sam to have a higher accuracy rate at work detecting defects in parts.

Study #3: participants (125) assigned more work to high self-control Sam.

Study #4: particpants (81) watched high and low self-control students type a page without hitting the “e” key or the spacebar. High and low self-control typists thought the task equally difficult. Observers thought the task was easier for high self-control students.

Study #5: 403 MBA students and 2,266 of their coworkers did 360-degree employee surveys. High self-control participants sacrificed more and felt more burdened by how much they needed to do for their teams. However, their coworkers didn’t see the sacrifice or the burden. When coworkers saw high self-control they notice the sacrifice, but not the burden.

Study #6: (169 couples) high self-control romantic partners reported being relied on more, which predicted fatigue. Normally high self-control individuals have higher relationship satisfaction, but this was lessened to the extent that they felt burdened by their partner’s reliance.

A downside of high self-control is that people expect more of others who display higher self-control, think they like hard work and difficult assignments, assign them more work than others, think that difficult work is easier for them, don’t notice the sacrifice they are making or the burdens they feel, or maybe notice the sacrifice but think they don’t mind it, and create feelings of fatigue by relying on their partners more.

So What – Application

If people with high self-control are burdened with more responsibility, we have two strategies. If you’re the high self-control person, you can create better boundaries, voice your displeasure at an unfair share of work, and remind people that you find the work difficult.

If you’re relying on a high self-control person, remember that they feel the burden, the work is just as hard for them, and that they may grow to resent the unfair burden they are being relied upon to do, which may affect the relationship.