The selfish side of self-control

Liad Uziel, Uri Hefetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Self-control is a powerful tool that promotes goal pursuit by helping individuals curb personal desires, follow norms, and adopt rational thinking. In interdependent social contexts, the socially acceptable (i.e. normative) and rational approach to secure long-term goals is prosocial behaviour. Consistent with that, much research associates self-control with prosociality. The present research demonstrates that when norm salience is reduced (i.e. social relations are no longer interdependent), high self-control leads to more selfish behaviour when it is economically rational. In three studies, participants were asked to allocate an endowment between themselves and another person (one-round, zero-sum version of the dictator game), facing a conflict between a socially normative and an economically rational approach. Across the studies, norm salience was manipulated [through manipulation of social context (private/public; Studies 1 and 2), measurement of social desirability (Studies 1 and 3), and measurement (Study 2) and manipulation (Study 3) of social power] such that some participants experienced low normative pressure. Findings showed that among individuals in a low normative pressure context, self-control led to economically rational, yet selfish, behaviour. The findings highlight the role of self-control in regulating behaviour so as to maximize situational adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-458
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Personality
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 European Association of Personality Psychology.


  • Dictator game
  • Power
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Public context
  • Rationality
  • Social desirability
  • Social norms


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