Bradley Wright on the Science of Sinning
Date: August 13th, 2017

Proverbs 25:28 states, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”  The lack of self-control is often a pathway into religious sin.  To discover what self-control is and what promotes self-control (or the lack thereof), we invited Prof. Bradley Wright (University of Connecticut, Sociology) to discuss his latest research that appeared as a lead article in Christianity Today (April 2017).  To be honest, we’re not talking about sinning per se, but rather about self-control.  Prof. Wright provides a definition of self-control, we cite a few Bible verses to give the topic some credibility for a podcast on religion, and then dive into the factors that enhance or detract from self-control.  Definitionally, self-control represents the ability to align our short-term desires with our long-term goals, whatever those may be.  As such, the exercise of self-control is often context specific.  Brad points out all the personal and social benefits that the exercise of self-control can bring about, but Tony challenges this assertion by pointing out that Keith Moon of The Who was one of the greatest rock drummers ever.  Brad counters by saying that self-control need not be practiced in all areas of life and that rock stars, no matter how out-of-control with booze and drugs still maintain some levels of self-control in other realms such as practicing and showing up for concerts.  We then survey some of the earlier research done by Brad’s colleague Roy Baumeister (Florida State) and the interesting experiment he did with undergraduate students, cookies, and radishes.  We learn that there are two types of self-control: trait and state.  The former represents one’s underlying personality and tends to be fixed in the long-term.  State self-control on the other hand varies throughout the days and weeks.  We learn that self-control tends to be strongest in the morning and wanes on specific days, most notably Tuesday and Wednesday.  Self-control is also determined by habit (automated self-control) and effort (controlled self-control).  It is noted that conscious effort to exert self-control often leads to “ego depletion,” or the exhaustion of the ability to be in control.  Habit formation, on the other hand, allows an individual to maintain a steady path of control over time with little effort.  Prof Wright then reviews what the SoulPulse project is, noting that data collection ended after a 3 1/2 year effort back in April.  Using data mined from thousands of users over the course of days and weeks, Brad and his team were able to determine that there were two major factors that influenced state-based self-control.  These were the quality of sleep one had the night before, with better sleep yielding more self control, and the proximity of interpersonal conflict.  Having experienced an argument or other conflict with someone recently reduced one’s self-control.  Both of these factors had very strong effects on one’s willpower, stronger than Brad had anticipated.  He also noted that individuals who are highly religious (self-reported) tended to exhibit greater amounts of self-control overall, representing “trait self-control.”  Tony asks whether those who prayed frequently were able to enhance their self-control given that personal meditation is thought to reduce the tensions associated with interpersonal conflict.  Brad admitted to not examining that variable, but said he would get right on it.  (We will follow up to see if he does.)  The interview concludes with Prof. Wright discussing how his own personal life has been affected by his studies of self-control and a TedX Talk by BJ Fogg about how little habits can help change your life.  He “brags” about his one burpee a morning regiment and how that helped him to routinize exercise and build up to a more vigorous program.  He also finishes off with some hints at new research to come.  Recorded: August 1, 2017.


Prof. Bradley Wright’s bio at the Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut

Prof. Bradley Wright’s personal website.

The Science of Sinning Less,” by Bradley Wright with David Carreon in Christianity Today.

SoulPulse website.

Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of the World, by Bradley Wright.

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, by Bradley Wright.

Forget Big Change, Start with a Tiny Habit,” a TedX Talk by BJ Fogg (mentioned in podcast).

Prof. Roy Baumeister’s bio at Florida State University.

Prof. David Carreon’s bio at his personal website.


Bradley Wright on SoulPulse.

Bradley Wright on Religion, Race, and Discrimination.

Bradley Wright on the Upside of Life.

Bradley Wright on Christian Stereotypes.

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