Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New year resolutions- social science research

If you are one of the many millions of people worldwide who has made a New Year resolution? Here are some useful insights from social science research.

Why are resolutions often made at the beginning of a year?
According to a recent NPR radio interview with Shankar Vedantam key time landmarks such as new years are seen as psychologically good points for making a new start and reinventing the self. However this also means that smaller landmark events such as birthdays or other holidays could also be good starting points.

What insights does psychology offer into behaviour change?

An expert on changing behaviours and new year resolutions is Professor John Norcross of Scranton university. A number of his studies have tracked individuals.

In a two year longitudinial study published as: Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld lang syne: Success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year's resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405. Key factors in success were seen to be related to self efficacy. It was not enough simply to desire to change they also needed stimulus control, reinforcement management, positive thinking, and avoidance strategies to keep their resolution. A free summary of some of this research can be found on the APA blog.

Issues of self control have also been discussed by Mukhopadhyay, Anirban ; Johar, Gita venkataramani Where There Is a Will, Is There a Way? Effects of Lay Theories of Self‐Control on Setting and Keeping Resolutions  Journal of Consumer Research, 2005, Vol.31(4), pp.779-786

Another problem is creating unrealistic resolutions Psychology professor Peter Herman and his colleagues at Toronto University have identified what they call "false hope syndrome,"  when a person's resolution is out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. See the full text in
If at first you don't succeed. False hopes of self-change
Polivy, Janet ; Herman, C Peter The American psychologist 2002, Vol.57(9), pp.677-89

How can we keep our resolutions?
Psychology today blog has some practical steps on self regulation taken from psychology research
The Conversation blog also has some tips from UK academics.

Finally try the
Try the RSA social brain quiz to find out what new year resolution you should choose and how to stick to it. It is based on scientific facts contained within the latest RSA report Easier said than done- why we struggle with healthy behaviours. See Psychcentral for a free discussion of this.

LSE staff and students can search for references to articles on this topic using
PsycINFO - a specialist database of the American Psychological Association providing abstracts of articles relevant to all fields of psychology from the 19th century to the present day.  

PubMed Central - free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature from the U.S. National Institute of Health's National Library of Medicine. 

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