The dangers of overconfidence

Support for twelve-step programs’ emphasis on powerlessness?

It doesn’t end there. In a third study, the researchers contrived to influence beliefs about self-control by giving student smokers a bogus implicit test of impulse control. Later, the students were challenged to watch the film “Coffee and Cigarettes” whilst abstaining from smoking. They were promised a greater cash reward the more difficult they made the challenge for themselves. In this case, students given bogus test feedback indicating they had high self-control were more likely to opt for greater temptation – holding the cigarette in their hand rather than having it on the desk – and they were more likely to give in to that temptation.

Finally, Nordgren’s team tested the idea that “restraint bias” could explain why drug addicts are so prone to relapse. They recruited 55 participants through a smoking-cessation programme, all of whom had been smoke free for at least three weeks. Those who said they had more impulse control also tended to say they wouldn’t be trying so hard to avoid temptation, such as the company of other smokers. Four months’ later, those with the inflated sense of impulse control were more likely to have relapsed.

“The restraint bias suggests that people are willing to experiment with addictive drugs simply because they believe they can overcome the addiction,” the researchers said. “An urgent task for future research is to test whether enduring shifts in impulse-control beliefs can be created.”

2 thoughts on “The dangers of overconfidence

  1. This is interesting research and raises some tricky questions. The issue of accepting powerlessness is hotly contentious in some quarters in the UK. A cover story in the well-read Drink and Drug News recently proposed that this concept made 12 step programmes likely to be unsuitable for women who'd suffered abuse.It's always been a bit of a paradox, but one many of us found worked well. Others have dismissed it as dangerous.If it is indeed true that confidence in one's ability to resist temptation is a predictor of inability to do so, then it sets the cat amongst the pigeons in so many ways.I like this research as it chimes with me and many of those I work with (my observation). I'll be interested to see if it gets developed.


  2. I've spent a lot of time working with domestic violence advocates about these matters. Those concerns were a hot topic in the U.S. in the 1990s, but the controversy seems to have settled down. A few important points:* The 12 steps do not say "I am powerless over people places and things." They speak only to powerlessness over alcohol and drugs.* Contrary to the philosophies of many professionals, powerlessness over alcohol and drugs is not a stigmatizing and disempowering concept for addicts themselves. In the absence of good explanations for our behavior, addicts tend to accept the narratives that our culture offers–we are selfish, irresponsible, immature, narcissistic, antisocial, etc. For people who have experienced this profound confusion and despair, the concept of powerlessness is de-stigmatizing and empowering. "I did not fail in my parental responsibilities because I don't care about my kids. I did it because I'm not capable of controlling my alcohol and drug use." More here: and here:


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