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Enacting rituals to improve self-control.

  • Author(s): Tian, Allen Ding;
  • Schroeder, Juliana;
  • Häubl, Gerald;
  • Risen, Jane L;
  • Norton, Michael I;
  • Gino, Francesca
  • et al.
Abstract

Rituals are predefined sequences of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition. We propose that enacting ritualized actions can enhance subjective feelings of self-discipline, such that rituals can be harnessed to improve behavioral self-control. We test this hypothesis in 6 experiments. A field experiment showed that engaging in a pre-eating ritual over a 5-day period helped participants reduce calorie intake (Experiment 1). Pairing a ritual with healthy eating behavior increased the likelihood of choosing healthy food in a subsequent decision (Experiment 2), and enacting a ritual before a food choice (i.e., without being integrated into the consumption process) promoted the choice of healthy food over unhealthy food (Experiments 3a and 3b). The positive effect of rituals on self-control held even when a set of ritualized gestures were not explicitly labeled as a ritual, and in other domains of behavioral self-control (i.e., prosocial decision-making; Experiments 4 and 5). Furthermore, Experiments 3a, 3b, 4, and 5 provided evidence for the psychological process underlying the effectiveness of rituals: heightened feelings of self-discipline. Finally, Experiment 5 showed that the absence of a self-control conflict eliminated the effect of rituals on behavior, demonstrating that rituals affect behavioral self-control specifically because they alter responses to self-control conflicts. We conclude by briefly describing the results of a number of additional experiments examining rituals in other self-control domains. Our body of evidence suggests that rituals can have beneficial consequences for self-control. (PsycINFO Database Record

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