How to Resist Temptation: The Effects of External Control Versus Autonomy Support on Self-Regulatory Dynamics


  • This work was supported by a grant from the German Science Foundation (DFG: BA 1859/1-1) to Nicola Baumann. I would like to thank Ed Deci and Richard Ryan for their support during my postdoc year in Rochester, where the present data were collected, and their constructive comments on a previous version of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Nicola Baumann or Julius Kuhl, Department of Psychology, University of Osnabrück, Seminarstr. 20, 49069 Osnabrück, Germany. E-mail: or


Abstract The purpose of the present study (N=80 undergraduate students) was to examine two issues: First, does external control lead to an increase in resistance to temptation more than the use of autonomy support? Second, what are the long-term effects of these types of educational style? Based on the Personality Systems Interaction (PSI) theory, external control was expected to increase resistance to temptation for those participants who lack initiative and self-motivation (i.e., state-oriented participants). Consistent with expectations, resistance to temptation was greater for state-oriented participants with externally controlled instructions than for individuals who received autonomy-supportive instructions. This was reflected by their performance on a visual discrimination task during distracter, compared to baseline, episodes. However, external control had negative long-term effects on state-oriented participants as indexed by alienation from their own preferences in free-choice behavior. Action-oriented participants were less influenced by experimental conditions.