Dylan Ratigan Show   |  October 11, 2011

Resisting temptation

Author Roy Baumeister talks about the science behind self-control and decision making.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, whether it's facebook, food, or some other forbidden act, temptation surrounds us, we all know it. heck, they use it as a core marketing technique. in fact, according to our next guest, we all spend four hours a day resisting temptation. but much like your morning workout, he says we can defeat these urges by exercising our willpower. more interestingly, he says our willpower is determined by our biochemistry. that there's actually a mathematical calculation that can be done. breaking it down with us, psychologist roy bombmeister, co-author of "rediscovering the greatest human strength." roy, what is the correlation biological between what we eat and how we live and our willpower?

>> well, willpower is your capacity for self-control and it depends on a variety of things. you need to -- the energy you use for willpower comes from the food you eat. so it isn't bite by bite that you get better, but having an adequate amount of food and energy in your system enables you to control yourself better.

>> you say in your book that researchers were able to predict that 80% accuracy in which prison convicts would commit crimes based on your assessment of their willpower. how is that possible?

>> well, criminality depends to a great deal on self-control or a lack of self-control. people who show good patterns of being able to regulate their behavior will be more likely once they're released from prison to obey society's laws. criminality is sort of a general breakdown and a general disregard for laws. it's not like we see in the movies, where you specialize and become expert at a certain kind of crime. it's more a general lack of inhibition or lack of respect for the rules. most criminals are arrested again and again for different crimes.

>> you say to build willpower, you have to do small but regular mind exercises, don't tame every bad habit at one, watch for ego fatigue, and you say don't diet, because it create it starves self- control system . most interesting, do small but regular mind exercises. what do you mean?

>> self-control works like a muscle, so after you use it, it gets tired, but as you use it regularly, it can get stronger. this is one of the great things, because self-control is one of the strongest keys to success and happiness inwomen so they could get more sex, and that when women were in a disadvantaged position, that this was to the benefit of men so they could have more sex. very much the opposite appears to be true. men and women have a much more active sex lives when the two genders are equal. i can elaborate on that if you like, but that is the basic finding.

>> i'll take it at that, and i think we'll assume a pro- e pro -equality position if we hadn't already. i think that's further evidence that equality is a better way to relate among human beings , whether it's on matters of sex or any other issues. clearly the fairness principles create more balanced activity in general. congratulations on the book and thank you for teaching us a little bit this afternoon. the book, rediscovering the greatest human strength, "willpower," roy baumeister , one of the co-authors, thanks for the lesson.

>>> and coming up on "hardball," chris matthews with a preview of the gop debate tonight, but first, what our entire country can learn from a bunch of wisconsin cheeseheads. the daily rant is straight ahead.