High Maintenance Interaction

For a passionate chocolate-eater who loves to sleep in - like myself - it is plausible that this executive functioning taps in to some sort of psychological resource, since it is so effortful to make smart choices all day. After I get home from a day of goal-directed behaviour, I usually plan to go to bed early to make the snoozing situation tomorrow easier to handle. But since I made smart choices all day, I cannot resist the invitation to go out ‘for just one drink’ with my friends. Schmeichel and Baumeister (2004) argued that regulating the self requires a central psychological resource, called  self-regulatory strength, which refers to ‘the internal resources available to inhibit, override or alter responses.’ This strength is limited and varies as a function of will- power, stress and exhaustion. Consequently, after regulating yourself at a certain task, it gets harder to do so again at a following task. When a person has had many simultaneous demands of self-regulation, he or she will sometimes even fail at self-control regarding things that otherwise would be easy to succeed on (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996). Come to think of it, this probably explains why I stayed in that dull bar until 2 a.m. yesterday, listening to that whiny ex-classmate I don’t even like.

Tasks that require self-regulation are in general complex thinking tasks, like thoughtful reading comprehension or analytical reasoning. Easy tasks, like memorizing simple syllables, don’t require self-regulation. Most research regarding self-regulation has focused on the intrapersonal processes underlying this phenomenon (e.g., Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994; Higgins, 2000). This research typically uses a two-task paradigm, in which participants have to perform on an initial task that requires self-regulation versus a task that doesn’t require self-regulation. After completing either one of these tasks, all participants complete a second task that (also) requires self-regulation. There is overwhelming evidence for the assumption that participants who completed two tasks requiring self-regulation perform worse on the second task than participants who first completed a task that didn’t demand self-regulation.

Finkel et al. (2006) explored whether the interpersonal processes of high-maintenance interaction impair self-regulatory success on a follow-up task as well. To do so, they conducted several studies in which participants either experienced well-coordinated interaction with another person (low-maintenance interaction condition) versus poorly coordinated interaction with another person (high-maintenance interaction condition). After this interaction, the participants completed an individual task requiring self-regulation. In studies 2 and 3, this task was operationalized as task performance on the analytical section of the Graduated Record Examination (GRE); an entrance examination in United States-universities. 
In study 2, participants in the low-maintenance and the high-maintenance interaction condition had to work together with another person. They thought this other person was just another participant of the study, but actually the other was a confederate of the researchers. In the task the confederate was the Communicator, calling out the data listed on a sheet, while the participant had the function of Recorder, entering the data being called out as accurately as possible. In the low-maintenance interaction condition, the confederate delivered the data flawlessly and on a pleasant speed, to ensure a smooth interaction. In the high-maintenance interaction condition on the other hand, the confederate made errors while calling out the data and stayed out of sync with the Recorder (e.g. calling out the data while the participant is still typing). After this interaction the participant had to correctly answer as many of the 9 GRE questions in 10 minutes as possible. The results of the study supported the researchers’ main hypothesis, as the participants in the low-maintenance interaction conditions correctly answered 45% more GRE-questions than participants in the high-maintenance interaction condition.

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