Your Partner in Crime Can Also Help You Control Yourself

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Why a "Partner In Crime" Helps You Indulge -- and Resist - Indulgences

Here's one mostly harmless way to know you have a "partner in crime":

The dessert menu crosses the table and without a word you and your friend, spouse or co-worker point to point to some indulgence and tell the server, "We'll have that -- and bring two spoons."

According to a study from the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, a partner in crime can help you resist temptation as well as indulge in it. 

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It's all about trusting in that partner, with some relief you have a close contact that thinks and acts the way you do when faced with a "to-die-for" urge. That mindset may not work with big temptations such as buying a home or leaving a job for a new one, but it works wonders for smaller urges, study researchers say.

"We like moral support when the stakes are high, but we enjoy having a 'partner in crime' when the stakes are lower," says Kelly L. Haws, a business professor at the university and a lead contributor to the study. 

The study, co-sponsored by Vanderbilt University and Texas A&M, used candy to test decision-making among "paired consumers." In most cases, study participants mirrored the decision made by one another, with most couples eating the same amount of candy, like true partners in crime.

"We find evidence of a general tendency for peers to ultimately match behaviors when facing a mutual temptation," Haws says. "Further, test subjects who ate a small amount of candy each later reported liking their partner more than when the study began. But participants who said they ate large amounts of candy reported liking their partner less than when the study began."

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There may be a thin line for what partners in crime may consider a harmless indulgence and a serious transgression (such as committing a crime together).

"We feel a greater sense of affiliation with a person when we eat or buy something considered bad, but not terrible, with a friend," Haws says. "Likewise, we feel a stronger affiliation when a friend reaffirms a decision not to overindulge."

Also, in rejecting a temptation, big or small, individuals lean on each other in self-protection mode, primarily to save money.

 "The basic finding holds that if we're with a friend and there's a large amount of money at stake, it helps us feel better about the relationship if together we decline to waste a large amount of money," Haws says.

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