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What if someone told you they had invented a machine that sits on your desk and strengthens your self-control? What if they further told you that that machine worked by feeding you chocolates? You would assume that person was a small child, perhaps, or a late-night TV pitchman.
At a tech conference a week ago, however, a team of German psychologists and designers introduced to the world just such a device: the Chocolate Machine, “a transformational product to improve self-control strength.” The Chocolate Machine is very simple: a tube reminiscent of a tall sleek Pez dispenser that, every 40 to 60 minutes, releases a chocolate ball onto a person’s desk. The recipient could then eat it or put it back into the machine. When the subjects started the study, they were told that putting the chocolate back into the machine would help build their willpower. The machine had a counter that kept track of how many times the user put chocolates back in the tube. That’s it.
The good news is that willpower, also like a muscle, can be strengthened with exercise. That’s what the Chocolate Machine is supposed to do: each chocolate put back in the machine is like a set of sit-ups for your self-control.