Out of Reach and Under Control: Distancing as a Self-Control Strategy

Shana Cole, Janna K. Dominick, Emily Balcetis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a world where they are inundated with potential temptations, how are successful dieters able to resist the urge to give in to unhealthy foods? Four studies suggest distance is one tool that may enable people to forego temptation. People with strong goals to eat healthy preferred to be farther away from unhealthy foods (Study 1a), which was associated with feeling less tempted by and less likely to give in to them (Study 1b). In addition, successful self-regulators with goals to restrict unhealthy eating perceptually represented the distance to unhealthy foods as greater than the distance to healthy foods (Study 2). Moreover, in a week-long food diary study, distancing from temptations helped people make healthier food choices (Study 3). The studies suggest that successful self-regulators’ motivations to avoid unhealthy foods are reflected in the way they structure and perceive the world. Distancing may allow people space to make healthier choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)939-952
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • distance
  • motivated perception
  • motivation
  • self-control
  • self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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