So, you clicked huh? Well, that’s as far as you’re gonna get. Don’t read this next sentence. Don’t do it. Don’t keep reading.
You just won’t quit, will you?
If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone. Studies actually show that majority of people can’t resist not doing what they’re told – that humans inherently dislike prohibitions and impositions.
What is it about the forbidden fruit that is just so tempting?
Let’s talk about the Forbidden Fruit Effect.
A reference to the biblical story in which God forbids Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, the forbidden fruit effect is connected with psychological theories such as reactance theory – when a person’s freedom is threatened and they experience psychological reactance; an unpleasant emotional state motivating them to restore the threatened or lost freedom.
With plenty of studies exploring the effects of the forbidden fruit in society today, including underage smoking, movie ratings, video games and even relationships, I was really curious to delve into exactly what drives this psychological reactance.
I’m sure we’ve all been there – heck, one of my earliest memories was sneaking out of the G rated Scooby Doo movie with my cousins and into the M rated Pirates of the Caribbean movie at my local cinema.
Now, I don’t remember specifically doing this in response to some sort of psychological reactance, but I do remember, despite being traumatised from seeing a whole undead army walk across the ocean floor, that I felt great knowing I wasn’t meant to be there.
The paradox of temptation
In more recent years, although perhaps not so severe, I have often found the temptations to have got the better of me. Whether it simply be that I know I shouldn’t watch one more TV episode before finishing my work, or that I shouldn’t open that block of chocolate in the downstairs cupboard, or even the fact that when my sister tells me she’s saving her leftovers for dinner tomorrow, it only makes me want to eat them that little bit more.
In fact, research has even shown the full effect of the forbidden fruit in action, with one study showcasing just how powerful it can be when a group of children were presented a scenario in which one type of lolly was freely placed on table, with a second type securely ‘forbidden’ beneath a clear box. Later, the same children were given free access to both kind of lollies, with the previously ‘forbidden’ treats being favoured over the previously ‘available’ ones.
Growing up, much past the days where I have to wait for permission to eat my lollies, I’ve come to a crossroad of what would be the most effective means of minimising the hold the forbidden fruit effect has over my life. Commonly, psychologists often discuss whether staying away from temptation will, in fact, remove it, or if exercising and strengthening self-control is a more appropriate response to this phenomena.
I wanted to dive deeper into this and came across another study, assessing university students’ desire to blow off class for play, which revealed that so long as one had the option to, they would suppress their urge to play. So perhaps this inherent desire to do what we shouldn’t is actually more deeply rooted in the perceived control we have over our lives and how we can strengthen self-control, rather than trying to remove the temptation altogether.
I definitely know when I feel like I have a choice, my perception of a situation is significantly more positive.
But how can I achieve this in my everyday life? I’m sure as hell not going to test myself everyday by overtly having choose between another Mr Robot episode or drafting up a proposal for work until I develop some form of self-control. Mr Robot would win every single time.
Interestingly, scholars have actually acknowledged the power of perceived control, and how overt control strategies can be more effective in minimising temptation, than covert efforts. A bit like when my mum used to cover my medicine with honey to trick me into taking it as a child.
So what do you think, should I figure out a way to trick myself into doing my work before play? Or should I just given in? After all, who knows all the things that never would have happened if everyone did what they were told?