Instant gratification for the internet generation: goal motivation affects self-control as a function of self-esteem

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Master of Science
University of Canterbury
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Johnston, Matthew

Impulsive (low self-control) behaviour is linked to mental health issues (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004), unemployment (Wright, Caspi, Moffitt, & Silva, 1999), and criminal behaviour (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990; Baron, 2003; Moffitt et al., 2011). Research on the causes of self-control failure can aim to ameliorate some of these societal concerns. The current study therefore set out to explore whether impulsive behaviour could be predicted through goal motivation, as moderated by self-esteem. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: (a) 15 minutes of personal social media use; or (b) 15 minutes of personal academic study, following which, all participants completed cognitive tasks as a measure of state self-control. Self-esteem was measured pre-manipulation through both implicit and explicit measures. Previous literature on social media has found its users to experience a short-term increase in state self-esteem (Toma, 2013). In contrast, the perception of negative academic performance causes a decrease in state self-esteem (Kernis, Brockner, & Frankel, 1989). Furthermore, this drop in state self-esteem lasts longer for individuals low in self-esteem (Metalsky, Halberstadt, & Abramson, 1987). An individual’s motivation to pursue goals is determined by that individual’s relationship with their environment (Ross & Nisbett, 2011). It was predicted in the current study that decreased motivation to approach, or increased motivation to avoid the pursuit of a goal, would lead to decreased self-control. As hypothesised, low implicit self-esteem individuals exhibited significantly less self-control following the performance of academic study than with social media. In contrast, high self-esteem individuals exhibited significantly less self-control following the performance of social media than with academic study.

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