Lead us not into temptation: The seven deadly sins
as a taxonomy of temptations
Oklahoma State University
Arkansas State University
Edward Burkley, Department of Psychology,
Oklahoma State University, 116 N. Murray,
Stillwater, OK 74074.
People constantly experience a tug‐of‐war between
their self‐control on one end and their temptations on the
other. Although a great deal of research has examined such
self‐control dilemmas, much of it has focused on the “push”
of self‐control rather than the “pull”of temptations. To
facilitate future work on this latter construct, we sought
to create a taxonomy of temptations. Using a top‐down
approach, we relied on the philosophical and historical
concept of the seven deadly sins—gluttony, greed, lust,
sloth, envy, pride, and wrath—to identify and define the
most commonly experienced temptations. In support of this
taxonomy, we review evidence for the role that self‐control
plays in resisting each of these seven temptation domains,
including work on trait self‐control and momentary exertions
of self‐control. Where applicable, we identify areas where
research is lacking and make suggestions for future work.
Lastly, we discuss how this taxonomy offers researchers
both theoretical and practical benefits.
I can resist everything except temptation. –Oscar Wilde (1893)
Life is full of temptations. Each day, we are forced to make decisions between what we know we should do
(e.g., eat a kale salad) and what we wish we could do (e.g., eat a cheeseburger). These everyday dilemmas reflect
a tug‐of‐war between our self‐control on one end and our impulses and desires on the other (Baumeister, 2014;
Hofmann, Friese, & Strack, 2009; James, 1890).
Although a great deal of research has studied the self‐control side of this conflict, far less attention has been paid to the
desire side. The goal of this article was to provide a taxonomy of commonly experienced temptations. In doing so, we strived
to provide researchers with a tool for systematically identifying and analyzing the influence of temptations in everyday life.
Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2018;e12416.
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltdwileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/spc3 1of16
Although a few studies have attempted to identify the dominant temptation domains, this work has largely been
data‐driven and, as a result, offers an unorganized view of temptations. To complement this bottom‐up approach, we
adopted a top‐down approach to create our taxonomy. Specifically, we assert that the historical designation of the
seven deadly sins—gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, envy, pride, and wrath—provides a template for understanding what
tempts people most of the time.
In this article, we assert that the seven deadly sins are a useful taxonomy for people's major temptations.
As such, we review research that indicates how giving in to each of these temptation domains is linked to low
self‐control. Where applicable, we identify areas where research on a particular temptation is lacking and make
suggestions for future work.
2|THE BATTLE BETWEEN TEMPTATION AND RESTRAINT
In our textbook Motivation Science, we use the analogy of a rider on a stubborn mule to demonstrate the nature of
self‐control dilemmas (Burkley & Burkley, 2018). In this analogy, the untamed mule represents the “pull”of our
impulses and desires. Whenever we want something or want to do something, we feel desire (Hofmann & Van Dillen,
2012). Although we all experience the allure of desire, the exact nature of our desires vary in terms of their (a) focus
(what we desire) and (b) strength (how strongly we desire it; Hofmann & Van Dillen, 2012).
Desires in and of themselves are not problematic. But when a particular desire conflicts with a person's goals, then
they enter a self‐control dilemma and the desire becomes a “temptation”(Hofmann, Baumeister, Förster, & Vohs,
2012). For example, there is nothing inherently wrong with craving a donut. But that craving becomes problematic
(and is therefore deemed a temptation) when it conflicts with your goal to stay faithful to your diet. Thus, the term
temptation implies an incompatibility between people's desired behavior and their personal goals.
When these conflicts occur, effortful self‐control is often required to override the alluring temptation (Baumeister &
Vohs, 2007; Hofmann, Friese, & Roefs, 2009). Self‐control is defined as inhibiting, stopping, or changing an undesired
response (Vohs & Baumeister, 2004). So whereas the mule represents the “pull”of temptations, the rider represents the
“push”of self‐control and restraint. In order to be successful, the rider must tame the impulsive mule and steer it back
onto the path toward goal achievement. The implication of this metaphor is that people may succumb to temptation for
one of two reasons: a strong mule or a weak rider.
Traditionally, self‐control research has focused primarily on the rider component by examining the factors that
increase or decrease self‐control performance (e.g., Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998; Carver & Scheier,
1982; Mischel, Shoda, & Peake, 1988). One of the more prominent effects to come from this literature is the tendency
for exertion on an initial self‐control task (e.g., resisting eating cookies) to reduce performance on a subsequent
self‐control task (e.g., less persistence on a boring task; for a recent review of depletion effects, see Masicampo,
Stephen, Martin, & Anderson, 2014). Over 300 published studies have demonstrated evidence in support of this
“depletion effect,”as well as an 83‐study meta‐analysis (Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010). But this effect
has also received its fair share of criticism.
Concerns include the fact that depletion research often involves small samples, that it likely suffers from
publication bias, and that it sometimes fails to produce the expected effect (for a summary of criticisms, see Friese,
Loschelder, Gieseler, Frankenbach, & Inzlicht, 2018). For example, a meta‐analysis of 116 studies found no evidence
of a depletion effect (Carter, Kofler, Forster, & McCullough, 2015), but critics have argued the correction techniques
used in this analysis were flawed (Garrison, Finley, & Schmeichel, 2018). Similarly, a high‐powered replication study
conducted across multiple labs failed to find the effect (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2016); however, these studies have
been criticized for employing an invalid self‐control manipulation (Baumeister & Vohs, 2016). More recent replication
attempts using large (1,000+) samples and pre‐registered methods found evidence that prior exertion did have a small
but significant impact on subsequent self‐control performance (Garrison et al., 2018; Wagenmakers & Gronau, 2018).
Even among researchers who believe in the validity of the depletion effect, there is still extensive debate
regarding its underlying mechanism. Some believe self‐control is a limited resource and that, like a muscle, it wears
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out with repeated use (Baumeister et al., 1998; Baumeister & Vohs, 2007; Gailliot et al., 2007). Others suggest that
prior exertion impacts people's motivation or willingness to exert self‐control, rather than their ability (Inzlicht,
Schmeichel, & Macrae, 2014; Muraven, Shmueli, & Burkley, 2006). Still, others argue that the depletion effect occurs
simply because people believe their self‐control is limited and exhaustible (Job, Bernecker, Miketta, & Friese, 2015;
Job, Dweck, & Walton, 2010). So although the current evidence suggests that self‐control exertion produces a small
but significant impairment on subsequent performance, more studies are needed to determine the robustness of this
effect, its boundary conditions, and its underlying mechanisms. And as important as these areas of investigation are,
they do not impede the specific purposes of this paper.
In addition to studying how momentary changes in self‐control affect task performance, researchers have also
examined how chronic differences in self‐control play a role. Trait self‐control refers to a dispositional tendency to be better
able to control one's impulses (de Ridder, Lensvelt‐Mulders, Finkenauer, Stok, & Baumeister, 2012). Research consistently
shows that people low in trait self‐control demonstrate worse self‐control performance across a wide range of domains
than do those high in trait self‐control (see de Ridder et al., 2012, for meta‐analysis). Thus, it appears that people's ability
or willingness to resist temptations is due, in part, to both their state self‐control and trait self‐control.
As previously stated, the majority of research on self‐control dilemmas focuses on the “rider”component. Most deple-
tion studies present participants with the same desired object (e.g., chocolate chip cookies) and assume that each person is
equally tempted (or tempted at all). Rarely is the strength of a particular temptation measured or manipulated directly (but
see Hofmann, Friese, & Roefs, 2009; Hofmann, Friese, & Strack, 2009; Rawn & Vohs, 2011). However, the tide is starting to
change. Self‐control researchers are increasingly directing their efforts toward the topic of temptations (e.g., Hofmann,
Vohs, & Baumeister, 2012; Milyavskaya, Inzlicht, Hope, & Koestner, 2015). In fact, some suggest the study of desire and
temptations is “the new hot spot in self‐control research”(Hofmann & Van Dillen, 2012, p. 317). As a result, we now know
that prior self‐control exertion not only weakens the rider's restraint but also strengthens the mule's desires (Schmeichel,
Harmon‐Jones, & Harmon‐Jones, 2010; Wagner, Altman, Boswell, Kelley, & Heatherton, 2013).
3|WHAT TEMPTS US?
Although a great deal is known about how temptations emerge, how they are controlled, and how they impact
behavior (e.g., Fishbach & Shah, 2006; Hofmann & Van Dillen, 2012; Leander, Shah, & Chartrand, 2009), much less
is known regarding the types of temptations that people regularly experience. One promising step in this direction
comes from Hofmann and colleagues (Hofmann, Baumeister, et al., 2012; Hofmann, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2012).
Whereas most studies focus on one type of temptation in isolation, these researchers simultaneously examined
multiple temptation domains. Specifically, participants were presented with 15 desire categories: food,drinks,
alcoholic drinks,coffee,tobacco,other substances,sex,media,spending,work,socializing,leisure activities,sleep,hygiene,
and other. For 7 days, participants rated these desires at several times throughout the day. Of these, the desires that were
identified as most conflicting with existing goals (and therefore most consistent with the definition of “temptation”)were
leisure activities, sleep, spending, media use, and tobacco.
These studies are an important first step in examining the types of temptations people regularly experience.
Using a data‐driven, bottom‐up approach, these researchers identified several commonly experienced temptation
domains. However, one issue with this work is that it was limited to the initial 15 domains created by the researchers.
Because these desires were not grounded in a theoretical or historical framework, it is possible that some important
temptations were omitted. To complement this work by Hofmann and colleagues, we employed a theory‐driven,
top‐down approach in this article to identify common temptation domains. To do so, we adopted a novel approach
by relying on a largely non‐scientific concept: sin.
Although “sin”has mostly been ignored in the psychological literature, it can be thought of as an extension of
morality—a topic that has received extensive empirical attention. Morality is defined as a set of culturally transmitted
norms and rules that identify “right”and “wrong”behaviors and, when followed, allow people to live together
BURKLEY ET AL.3of16
harmoniously (Baumeister & Exline, 1999; Hofmann, Meindl, Mooijman, & Graham, in press). One of the major
purposes of morality is to constrain human action in an attempt to reduce selfish behaviors. In fact, many researchers
believe this is the very reason why self‐control evolved in humans, to enable us to override our selfish impulses and
act in ways that promote a civilized culture (Baumeister, 2005). So despite the lack of overlap between morality and
self‐control in the literature, the two concepts are highly related (Baumeister & Exline, 2000; Hofmann et al., in press).
As such, each area of literature could greatly benefit from the other.
In this article, we assert that the moral concept of sin can be used to inform the literature on self‐control and
temptations. To accomplish this goal, we must first make a definitional distinction between temptation and sin. As
stated earlier, a temptation is any desire that conflicts with an individual's personal goal. So whether something is
tempting or not is defined by the individual. Instead, we assert that sin is defined by the society (see Ross, 1907,
for an early proponent of this assertion). When a particular temptation is so common among a group of people that
it conflicts with not only personal goals but also societal goals (e.g., social norms and laws) and could disrupt social
stability, that group is likely to deem it a sin.
4|THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS AS A TAXONOMY OF TEMPTATIONS
Of all the list of sins available throughout history, the most well‐known is the seven deadly sins. Initially created in the
14th century and subsequently modified over the years, the seven deadly sins were used to describe the temptation
domains that represented the most common vices of human nature. They were often referred to as “capital vices”or
“cardinal sins”because it was believed that much of the spectrum of human temptations could be reduced into this
handful of domains, much like the entire color spectrum can be reduced to a handful of primary colors. These seven
domains include gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, envy, pride, and wrath (each is defined in detail below).
Although the term “seven deadly sins”emerged from Christian doctrine, these temptation domains have also
been discussed by other religions (e.g., Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam; Schimmel, 1992), the ancient Greeks (e.g.,
Aristotle and Plato), and philosophers (e.g., Bentham, 1817/1983; Hume, 1739/2001). This is because, despite
cultural differences, most societies share similar goals for safety, fairness, productivity, fertility, and harmony. For this
reason, variants of the seven deadly sins can be seen in numerous societies and in both religious and non‐religious
contexts. But the fact that these seven sin domains have withstood the test of time suggests that they represent a
powerful and useful taxonomy of people's most commonly experienced temptations.
We are not the first psychologists to use the concept of the seven deadly sins to explore human behavior
(Baumeister & Exline, 2000; Capps & Cole Jr, 2006; Latham, 2012; Nauta & Derckx, 2007; Veselka, Giammarco, &
Vernon, 2014). We are also not the first to suggest a possible link between these sins and self‐control. In their
exploration of virtue, Baumeister and Exline (1999, p. 1173) hinted at our approach when they stated, “the seven
deadly sins all seem to have a major component involving failed self‐control,”but did not explore further. Thus, to
our knowledge, we are the first to use this list of sins to develop a taxonomy of common temptations.
If these seven sins truly represent temptation domains, then resistance to these temptations should be reduced
when self‐control is weak. If this assertion is true, we should find that people are more likely to express gluttony,
greed, lust, sloth, envy, pride, and wrath when they (a) are chronically low in trait self‐control or (b) have exerted prior
self‐control. In the next section, we examine the extent to which the current literature supports these predictions.
5|THEROLEOFSELF‐CONTROL ACROSS THE SEVEN TEMPTATION
Gluttony involves an overconsumption of food, alcohol, or other substances (Baumeister & Exline, 1999; Lyman,
1989; Schimmel, 1992). Such overindulgences are problematic when they conflict with health goals. The recent
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emergence of the term “food porn”to refer to tempting images of food offers just one clue as to the tempting nature
of this domain. Historically, gluttony was considered sinful because it was unhealthy for the person who
overconsumed and was also harmful to society because it left fewer resources for those who truly needed them.
Today, it is recognized that gluttony results in a wide range of personal and social costs, including obesity, addiction,
poor health and well‐being, and medical expenses.
Research indicates that people chronically low in trait self‐control consume unhealthier foods (e.g., de Ridder et al.,
2012; Friese, Engeler, & Florack, 2015) and weigh more (Crescioni et al., 2011; Moffitt et al., 2011) than do those high
in self‐control. Furthermore, a 4‐month study of dieters found that those low in self‐control were less able to resist
their food desires, consumed more unhealthy foods, and lost less weight than their high counterparts (Hofmann,
Adriaanse, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2014). Beyond eating patterns, low trait self‐control has also been associated with
greater alcohol consumption (DeWall et al., 2014; Quinn & Fromme, 2010), drug use (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, and
opiates; Malouf et al., 2014), and alcohol and drug‐related problems (de Ridder et al., 2012; Moffitt et al., 2011).
A similar pattern can be seen in studies that manipulate self‐control. For instance, prior exertion leads people to
choose an unhealthy food option (Wang, Novemsky, Dhar, & Baumeister, 2010), break their diet and overeat
(Hofmann, Rauch, & Gawronski, 2007), consume more alcohol (Christiansen, Cole, & Field, 2012; Muraven, Collins,
& Nienhaus, 2002) and smokers to smoke (Shmueli & Prochaska, 2009). Beyond the lab, a 3‐week diary study found
that on days in which participants exerted a great deal of self‐control, they were more likely to drink alcohol, become
intoxicated, and violate their self‐imposed drinking limits (Muraven, Collins, Morsheimer, Shiffman, & Paty, 2005).
And a study on food consumption found that participants who exerted prior self‐control ate more cookies during a
taste‐testing task than did those with no prior exertion (Friese et al., 2015).
Interestingly, Wagner et al. (2013) used functional neuroimaging to examine the link between self‐control and
gluttony. Their results found that prior exertion increased the allure of gluttony by simultaneously (a) boosting
people's neural responses to appetizing food cues in the reward center of the brain (i.e., the orbitofrontal cortex)
and (b) decreasing connectivity between this region and an area known to play a role in self‐control (i.e., the inferior
frontal gyrus). Thus, it appears that prior self‐control exertion produces a double whammy that not only weakens the
rider but also strengthens the mule's gluttonous impulses.
Greed involves an excessive desire for money and material possessions (Baumeister & Exline, 1999; Lyman, 1989;
Schimmel, 1992). From brick‐and‐mortar stores to infomercials and online retail, the modern world is filled with monetary
temptations. Indulging in these spending behaviors become problematic when they conflict with financial goals.
Recent descriptions of greed within the psychological literature tend to deviate from this historical definition
because they frame it as an excessive desire for all things, not just wealth (Krekels & Pandelaere, 2015; Seuntjens,
Zeelenberg, van de Ven, & Breugelmans, 2015). However, defining greed this broadly is problematic because it makes
it indistinguishable from other temptation domains (e.g., gluttony, lust, and envy). Furthermore, research linking
greed with self‐control has focused exclusively on the monetary nature of this temptation, rather than the broader
definition (e.g., Moffitt et al., 2011; Vohs & Faber, 2007). As such, we remain loyal to the narrower definition that
most closely fits the historical concept of greed as a desire for wealth.
Research shows that people low in self‐control have more credit card debt (Mansfield, Pinto, & Parente, 2003;
Moffitt et al., 2011), more money management problems (Moffitt et al., 2011), and more compulsive spending
(Achtziger, Hubert, Kenning, Raab, & Reisch, 2015; Vohs & Faber, 2007) than those high in self‐control.
Interestingly, Moffitt et al. (2011) found that trait self‐control in childhood was a stronger predictor of adult financial
problems than socioeconomic status or IQ.
Similarly, prior self‐control exertion leads people to find consumer products more tempting (Vohs & Faber, 2007),
assign products a higher price or valuation (Vohs & Faber, 2007), and be more willing to lie or cheat in order to obtain
money (Mead, Baumeister, Gino, Schweitzer, & Ariely, 2009). People are also more likely to engage in impulse buying
BURKLEY ET AL.5of16
when they have exerted prior self‐control. For example, students who exerted self‐control on a prior task spent more
of their money on impulsive purchases from the university book store (e.g., candy and coffee mug) than did those
who did not exert self‐control (this was especially so for people chronically low in control over their buying impulses;
Vohs & Faber, 2007).
Lust involves an excessive desire for sexual gratification (Baumeister & Exline, 1999; Lyman, 1989; Schimmel, 1992).
Lust is characterized by greater sexual desire, sexual thoughts, promiscuous behaviors, sexual risk‐taking, and
infidelity within a committed romantic relationship (Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001; Veselka et al., 2014). From
internet pornography to Tinder to websites like Ashley Madison that facilitate infidelity, it is clear that lust is a com-
mon temptation in modern culture. This is not to say that all sexual impulses are undesirable—sexual desires are a
normal part of human nature—but people must often regulate their sexual appetites so as to abide by personal, reli-
gious, legal and/or social prescriptions and to stay faithful to a romantic partner (Galliot & Baumeister, 2007; Ritter,
Karremans, & van Schie, 2010). Thus, sexual overindulgences become problematic when they conflict with fidelity
goals, violate social norms, or interfere with healthy functioning.
Research indicates that people low in trait self‐control have more sexual thoughts (Galliot & Baumeister, 2007),
spend more time viewing sexually explicit material (Friese & Hofmann, 2012; Hofmann, Gschwendner, Friese, Wiers,
& Schmitt, 2008), report a stronger desire to meet an attractive other (Pronk, Karremans, & Wigboldus, 2010), and
are more likely to flirt with another person (Pronk et al., 2010). Furthermore, people low in self‐control are more likely
to engage in sex (de Ridder et al., 2012; Wills, Gibbons, Gerrard, Murry, & Brody, 2003), have risky or unprotected sex
(de Ridder et al., 2012; Malouf et al., 2014; Quinn & Fromme, 2010; Wills et al., 2003), contract sexually transmitted
diseases (Moffitt et al., 2011), and are more likely to engage in infidelity in the presence of sexual desire (McIntyre,
Barlow, & Hayward, 2015; Pronk et al., 2010) than their high counterparts.
Similarly, prior self‐control exertion leads people to have more sexual thoughts (Galliot & Baumeister, 2007), to
sit closer to an attractive other when sexual desire is present (McIntyre et al., 2015), and to engage in physical
intimacy with a romantic partner in a laboratory setting (e.g., kissing and caressing; Galliot & Baumeister, 2007).
Furthermore, prior self‐control exertion leads people who are currently in a committed relationship to accept a date
with someone other than their current partner (Ciarocco, Echevarria, & Lewandowski Jr, 2012) and to say they would
cheat on their partner within the context of a hypothetical scenario (Galliot & Baumeister, 2007; McIntyre et al.,
2015). For example, Ritter et al. (2010) had single and romantically committed people view pictures of an attractive
opposite‐sex other. They found that for single participants (who did not need to resist temptation), prior self‐control
exertion had no effect on their ratings of the attractive others. However, for participants in a committed relationship
(who needed to resist temptation to stay faithful to their partner), prior exertion had an impact. Romantically involved
participants with no prior exertion showed the least amount of interest in the attractive others, suggesting that they
successfully resisted the lustful temptation. But romantically involved participants with prior self‐control exertion
were just as interested in the attractive others as the single participants.
Although the modern understanding of the term “sloth”implies a laziness of the body, the original term for this sin,
“acedia,”refers to a laziness of the soul (Latham, 2012). Evagrius Ponticus, the monk who created the original seven
deadly sins list, considered acedia to be an especially concerning sin because it could lead monks to abandon their
religious commitments for other activities (Latham, 2012). Thus, instead of viewing sloth solely as idleness, we adopt
a definition that includes both modern and archaic aspects of this sin. Specifically, we define sloth as an excessive
desire to avoid boredom or work by pursuing either inactivity or leisurely activities. There is nothing wrong with a
little relaxation, but slothful behaviors become problematic when they conflict with work goals, social norms, and life
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aspirations. This sin is characterized by laziness, procrastination, a lack of goals, and a preference for fun and easy
tasks over work or required duties. Thus, this sin can be thought of as avoiding one's primary goal by doing something
else, even if that something else is nothing.
Never before in mankind's history have there been so many opportunities to be slothful. From Instagram and Facebook
to Netflix and Candy Crush, we are constantly bombarded by distractions that lure us away from our studies and our work.
For instance, college students indicate they spend one third of their daily activities procrastinating—usually via sleeping,
playing video games, or watching TV—and these percentages are on the rise (Kachgal, Hansen, & Nutter, 2001;
Pychyl, Lee, Thibodeau, & Blunt, 2000).
Research indicates that people low in trait self‐control have fewer goals (Malouf et al., 2014) and are more likely
to procrastinate, succumb to distraction, and disengage earlier from boring tasks (Ent, Baumeister, & Tice, 2015;
Ferrari & Emmons, 1995; Kanfer, Wanberg, & Kantrowitz, 2001). Those low in this trait also demonstrate poorer
academic and career success (de Ridder et al., 2012; Eisenberg, Duckworth, Spinrad, & Valiente, 2014; Roberts,
Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007; Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004) and greater unemployment (Daly,
Delaney, Egan, & Baumeister, 2015). Finally, people low in self‐control are more likely to excessively engage in leisure
activities, making them more prone to internet addiction (Akın, Arslan, Arslan, Uysal, & Sahranç, 2015; LaRose, Lin, &
Eastin, 2003; Özdemir, Kuzucu, & Ak, 2014) and online gaming addiction (Kim, Namkoong, Ku, & Kim, 2008), than
people high in self‐control.
A similar pattern can be seen in experiments that manipulate self‐control. A wealth of research finds that prior
self‐control exertion leads people to reduce their effort and persistence on difficult, boring, or unsolvable tasks
(e.g., Baumeister et al., 1998; Burkley, 2008; Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998; Muraven et al., 2006; Wallace &
Baumeister, 2002). For example, Muraven et al. (1998) found that people who exerted prior self‐control quit an
unsolvable anagrams task sooner than those who did not exert self‐control.
Importantly, this link between self‐control exertion and lack of persistence has been established utilizing a wide
range of tasks (e.g., unsolvable anagrams, figure tracing task, squeezing a handgrip, holding hand in cold water, and
watching a boring video). Furthermore, self‐control exertion has been shown to increase a desire for rest‐conducive
products (e.g., bed, hammock, and TV) and actual rest behavior, especially among people who believe their self‐control
resources are limited (Job et al., 2015; Muraven et al., 2006).
Envy involves a negative emotion aroused in response to an upward social comparison that reflects a desire for, or
deprivation of, the advantages held by another (Parrott & Smith, 1993; Smith & Kim, 2007; Smith, Parrott, Diener,
Hoyle, & Kim, 1999). Social comparison is a normal part of human life, but when envious behaviors conflict with
relational goals or life aspirations, they become problematic. Envy also violates social norms (Foster, 1972; Heider,
1958), so people are often motivated to control it. Consistent with this assertion, neuroimaging data suggest that when
people are confronted with a superior other, brain activity increases in regions associated with emotional control
(Joseph, Powell, Johnson, & Kedia, 2008).
Within the empirical literature, two forms of envy have been identified. Malicious envy reflects a hostile feeling
toward the envied other and is rooted in a motivation to bring this other down (Crusius & Lange, 2014; van de
Ven, Zeelenberg, & Pieters, 2009). Benign envy reflects a more positive feeling of desire for what the envied other
has and is rooted in a motivation to build up oneself. Of the two, malicious envy is more clearly linked to the original
conception of envy as a sin (Lyman, 1989; Schimmel, 1992). Consistent with this idea, malicious (but not benign) envy
has been shown to relate to schadenfreude, which is defined as pleasure derived from another's misfortune (van de
Ven et al., 2015).
To date, there are no studies showing a link between trait self‐control and envy. This is likely because the concept
of envy as two components and a measure designed to assess these two components was only recently developed
(Lange & Crusius, 2015). However, this gap in the literature suggests future studies are needed on this topic.
BURKLEY ET AL.7of16
To date, only one set of studies has examined if people are more likely to express envy after prior self‐control
exertion (Crusius & Mussweiler, 2012). In one study, prior exertion led participants to self‐report being more envious
of better‐off others. In another study, half of the participants were given a task that required self‐control (i.e., digit
recall task) and half were not. Next, all participants were seated next to a fellow participant who had a better
resource than they had (i.e., a more desirable beverage). Participants then completed a measure of their implicit
tendency to approach or avoid the envied resource (i.e., joystick push or pull). The results indicated that participants
who exerted prior self‐control had a stronger approach tendency toward the better‐off other's resource. Thus, those
who exerted self‐control experienced more desire for the envied product than those who did not exert self‐control.
Although the Crusius and Mussweiler (2012) studies provide initial evidence for a connection between
self‐control and envy, more research is clearly needed. Coveting another's resources is just one way that this
temptation is expressed. For instance, envy has various cognitive consequences—including greater attention and
memory for information about envied others (Crusius & Lange, 2014; Hill, DelPriore, & Vaughan, 2011)—and
behavioral consequences directed at the envied other—including hostile responses (Salovey & Rodin, 1984; Smith,
Parrott, Ozer, & Moniz, 1994), spreading gossip and rumors (Duffy, Scott, Shaw, Tepper, & Aquino, 2012), and
socially distancing oneself (Salovey & Rodin, 1984). Future research should explore if these cognitive and behavioral
consequences of envy are more likely to occur among people who have previously exerted self‐control.
Pride is essentially the belief that one is better than others (Lyman, 1989; Schimmel, 1992). People are motivated to
privately view themselves in a positive light, and doing so benefits the individual (Sedikides & Strube, 1997; Taylor &
Brown, 1988). But people must often publically control their self‐aggrandizing notions so as to not be viewed by
others as arrogant or egotistical (Vohs, Baumeister, & Ciarocco, 2005). As such, overly prideful responses can conflict
with relational goals, as well as social norms of compassion and humility.
Within the empirical literature, two forms of pride have been identified. Authentic pride reflects a feeling
associated with “doing”something and is linked with specific accomplishments (Tracy & Robins, 2007a). This is the
meaning ignited when we say we feel pride in our own successes or that of our child. Hubristic pride reflects a feeling
associated with “being”something and reflects excessive admiration of the self (Tracy & Robins, 2007a, 2007b; cf.
Holbrook, Piazza, & Fessler, 2014). As such, hubristic pride is more in line with the conception of pride as a sin involv-
ing excessive admiration of the self or vainglory (Lyman, 1989; Schimmel, 1992; Tracy & Robins, 2014). Consistent
with this conceptualization, authentic pride correlates with prosociality, whereas hubristic pride correlates with nar-
cissistic and maladaptive self‐views (Cheng, Tracy, & Henrich, 2010).
People chronically low in self‐control tend to score higher on hubristic pride (and lower on authentic pride) than
do those high in self‐control (Carver, Sinclair, & Johnson, 2012). Similarly, within the clinical psychology literature,
people low in self‐control show higher levels of pathological narcissism, which can be viewed as a more extreme form
of hubristic pride, than do their high counterparts (Mowlaie, Abolghasemi, & Aghababaei, 2016). Finally, a study on
jail inmates found that those who were low in self‐control were higher in egocentricity than were those high in this
trait (Malouf et al., 2014).
Only one study to date has shown a link between prior self‐control exertion and pride. Specifically, women
watched a video and half were instructed to exert self‐control by ignoring words that appeared at the bottom of
the screen (Vohs et al., 2005). Next, all participants completed measures of narcissism and social desirability. The
results indicated that participants who exerted prior self‐control produced more narcissistic responses, and this
relationship was mediated by changes in social desirability. That is, self‐control exertion decreased their motivation
to be viewed in a socially favorable way, which in turn led them to engage in more prideful responses. Not only does
this study demonstrate a causal link between self‐control and pride, but it also suggests that concerns about what
others think of us are what keep our hubristic expressions in check.
8of16 BURKLEY ET AL.
Although this study provides a good start point in examining the connection between self‐control and pride,
more research on this topic is needed. Mimicking the trait self‐control literature, future research could explore if prior
exertion increases hubristic pride but decreases authentic pride. Other prideful responses could also be examined.
For example, a great deal of research has indicated that people tend to think they are better than average on a wide
range of traits, including driving ability, honesty, intelligence, and yes, self‐control (Alicke, 1985; Alicke, Klotz,
Breitenbecher, Yurak, & Vredenburg, 1995; Brown, 2012). In fact, people are so prideful in this regard that prisoners
actually rate themselves as more moral, honest, kind, and self‐controlled than does the average non‐prisoner
(Sedikides, Meek, Alicke, & Taylor, 2013). Future research could explore if this egotistic tendency increases after
self‐control exertion or if it is more likely among people low in trait self‐control.
Wrath involves excessive feelings of anger and desire for revenge directed toward people who have been insulting or
harmful (Lyman, 1989; Schimmel, 1992). Although wrath is sometimes referred to as the sin of anger (Veselka et al.,
2014), the original conception of this sin was specifically as a desire for vengeance rather than a tendency to become
angry at anything. For example, Dante (1955/1308–1321, p. 67) described wrath as “love of justice perverted to
revenge and spite.”We therefore adopt the narrower definition of this temptation domain as that of wrath. Such
a definition is akin to current models of aggression, which assert that the most important cause of human aggression
is provocation (Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Cowie, Naylor, Smith, Rivers, & Pereira,
2002; Finkel et al., 2012).
Although aggression and violence toward those who have hurt us or our group is an inherent part of human
nature, modern societies require their citizens to override these aggressive tendencies and allow justice to be
pursued in more socially appropriate ways (e.g., the law; Baumeister, 2005; DeWall, Baumeister, Stillman, & Gailliot,
2007). As such, a desire for revenge can become problematic when it conflicts with relational goals, social norms, and
governmental laws. For this reason, when our desire for wrath becomes ignited, we must exert self‐control to override
our aggressive reactions (Denson, DeWall, & Finkel, 2012; Finkel et al., 2012). Consistent with this assertion,
neuroimaging studies indicate that brain activity in regions associated with behavioral and emotional control increases
when people are provoked (Denson, Pedersen, Ronquillo, & Nandy, 2009; see also Denson, 2011; Raine, 2008).
Research has found that children and adolescents low in trait self‐control exhibit greater aggressive and delinquent
behaviors (Krueger, Caspi, Moffitt, White, & Stouthamer‐Loeber, 1996; Murphy & Eisenberg, 1997). Likewise, adults low
in trait self‐control respond to anger‐provoking situations more aggressively (Hofmann et al., 2008; Jensen‐Campbell,
Knack, Waldrip, & Campbell, 2007; Kashdan, Goodman, Mallar, & DeWall, 2016; Tangney et al., 2004) and are more likely
to engage in acts of violence (e.g., pushing and hitting; Larson, Vaughn, Salas‐Wright, & Delisi, 2015) than are those high in
this trait. Furthermore, a study on jail inmates found that those low in trait self‐control were higher in verbal and physical
aggression than were inmates high in self‐control (Malouf et al., 2014). Finally, among people who are currently in a roman-
tic relationship, those low in trait self‐control exhibit greater aggression toward their partner during a conflict (Finkel,
DeWall, Slotter, Oaten, & Foshee, 2009; Larson et al., 2015) and are less willing to accommodate and forgive their partner's
transgressions (Finkel & Campbell, 2001) than their high counterparts.
Similarly, prior exertion has been shown to make people less likely to forgive a romantic partner's transgressions
(Finkel & Campbell, 2001) and more likely to display aggression toward a partner after provocation (Finkel et al.,
2009; Watkins, DiLillo, Hofmann, & Templin, 2015). Outside of the relationship sphere, several studies indicate that
prior exertion leads to greater aggressive behaviors toward a stranger who has just offered an insult (Denson, von
Hippel, Kemp, & Teo, 2010; DeWall et al., 2007; Osgood & Muraven, 2016; for review, see DeWall, Finkel, &
Denson, 2011). Importantly, this link between self‐control exertion and aggression has been established utilizing a
wide range of aggression measures (e.g., hot sauce task, noise blasts, and harmful evaluations of a job rival). For
example, DeWall et al. (2007) found that people who were insulted were more likely to retaliate (via the hot sauce
task) if they had exerted prior self‐control.
BURKLEY ET AL.9of16
6|THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
There are several benefits to the approach we have taken in this article. First is that our taxonomy takes the seven
deadly sins, a concept that has largely been housed in either religion or pop culture, and transports it into the
scientific domain. To our knowledge, we are the first to provide an operational definition for sin and indicate how
it is distinct from temptation. Such an approach is unique because, as Baumeister and Exline (1999, p. 1189) noted,
“psychology has aspired to being value‐free in its pursuit of the scientific ideal, and it is possible that this reluctance
to make value judgments has hampered the study of virtue.”The same could be said of virtue's opposing force, sin.
Thus, our approach facilitates the small but growing body of literature examining sin through the lens of science.
Second, our seven deadly sins taxonomy offers both theoretical and practical benefits to researchers. As our
review indicates, this taxonomy was quite useful in organizing the existing self‐control literature and identifying topics
for future research. Researchers could also use this taxonomy to develop specific behavioral interventions, since such
interventions are more effective when targeted toward a specific problem or cause (Abraham & Michie, 2008). Our
taxonomy also provides operational definitions of each temptation that makes the boundary conditions and nuanced
differences between temptation domains more visible. As such, it offers a standardized model that can be used to
improve replication fidelity and facilitate theoretical development through meta‐analyses. Finally, this paper highlights
the importance of including individual difference measures of these temptations in future self‐control research. This is
not to say that our taxonomy is exhaustive, but it offers a starting point by highlighting the temptations that have acted
as siren calls to humans for hundreds of years.
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Edward Burkley received his doctoral degree in social psychology from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill and is an associate professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University. His research focuses on
self‐control, motivation, and goals. His research has been published in journals such as the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology,Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Self and Identity. His research has been
featured in several media outlets, including New Scientist Magazine and the APA Monitor. In his free time, he
writes speculative fiction short stories, some of which have been published in Weirdbook and 2017 Year's Best
Body Horror (www.edwardburkley.com).
Melissa Burkley received her doctoral degree in social psychology from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill and worked for over a decade as a professor at Oklahoma State University. Her work focuses on
stereotypes, prejudice, gender, and implicit racism. Her research has been published in professional journals
including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Social
Cognition. Her research has been featured in a number of media outlets, including The New York Times,
Cosmopolitan,Esquire, and Oprah Winfrey radio; and she has served as a consultant for TIME and O Magazine.
She also writes two psychology‐themed blogs: “The Social Thinker”for Psychology Today and “The Writer's
Jessica Curtis received her doctoral degree in experimental psychology from Oklahoma State University and is an
assistant professor at Arkansas State University. Her research focuses on motivation, goals, and social influence.
Thomas Hatvany received his doctoral degree in experimental psychology from Oklahoma State University and is
an assistant professor at Shippensburg University. His research focuses on motivation, goals, social influence, and
How to cite this article: Burkley E, Burkley M, Curtis J, Hatvany T. Lead us not into temptation: The seven
deadly sins as a taxonomy of temptations. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. 2018;e12416. https://doi.org/
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