Liberating Effects of Losing Executive Control: When Regulatory Strategies Turn Maladaptive

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT

Across numerous domains, research has consistently linked decreased capacity for executive control to negative outcomes. Under some conditions, however, this deficit may translate into gains: When individuals' regulatory strategies are maladaptive, depletion of the resource fueling such strategies may facilitate positive outcomes, both intra- and interpersonally. We tested this prediction in the context of contentious intergroup interaction, a domain characterized by regulatory practices of questionable utility. White participants discussed approaches to campus diversity with a White or Black partner immediately after performing a depleting or control computer task. In intergroup encounters, depleted participants enjoyed the interaction more, exhibited less inhibited behavior, and seemed less prejudiced to Black observers than did control participants—converging evidence of beneficial effects. Although executive capacity typically sustains optimal functioning, these results indicate that, in some cases, it also can obstruct positive outcomes, not to mention the potential for open dialogue regarding divisive social issues.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02266.x

Affiliations: Tufts University

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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