Sure enough, Finkel and colleagues observed that when the research assistant mimicked participants behaviors closely, the participants scored better in Operation; similarly, when the research assistants were misaligned (out of synch), the participants were significantly worse at Operation! These researchers show that you can vary both the high-maintenance interaction (e.g., get two people to enter data together but have the instructor make many errors, which is maddening for the person entering the data) and the outcome (e.g., persistence on standardized test problems) and the results look essentially the same as in the Operation experiment: The more burdensome the interaction, the more our self-control is depleted in the end.
What does this have to do with the undead? I hope it’s obvious by now that this research suggests that some people—and, more accurately, some interactions—can sap our self-control and therefore make it much harder to effectively regulate our emotions.
What can you do about this? First, be aware of high-maintenance interactions in your day-to-day life. Is it harder to concentrate after a phone call from a narcissistic friend? Do you hate Thanksgiving because your brother-in-law interrupts every time you open your mouth? These are high-maintenance interactions, and I’d encourage you to reflect on how many of these types of exchanges you can reasonably cut out of your life.
I recognize that it’s impossible to get rid of all the high-maintenance interactions (and high-maintenance people, for that matter… Yes, I’ve said it: Some people create many more high-maintenance interactions than others.) Therefore, my second piece of advice is to make sure you have many sources for low-maintenance interaction. Finkel’s data suggests that low-maintenance interactions (e.g., the behavioral mimicry condition) don’t enhance our self-control per se but can be effective in preventing the hits to self-control that we see in high-maintenance interactions.
It may be the case that we can energize ourselves by interacting with low-maintenance partners. By extension, perhaps this is our pets are so important for our health? I’ve known some vampire dogs in my day, but, in general, pets and supportive friends are good ways to restore our self-control after a day of working (and maybe living) with the undead.
-David Sbarra, Ph.D.
This post originally appeared on YouBeauty.
More from YouBeauty: