The number one reason people rack up heavy credit card debt is the false belief that they have self-control: NUS-SUSS study

SINGAPORE — People who rack up high levels of credit card debt tend to fool themselves that they have good self-control, when they don’t, a study has found.

Many of those mired in debt might think they are actually being shrewd and making good use of the banking system by borrowing just enough to meet all their expenses, according to the study by the National University of Singapore ( NUS) and Singapore Social Science University Foundation (SUSS).

But in fact, they are more likely to rack up more debt due to their inflated sense of self-control. The study looked at the behavior of “extreme debtors”, defined as those whose credit card debt is at least 12 times their monthly income, across all age groups, genders and education levels.

The results of the study were published in May this year in the Journal of Personality, which publishes scientific investigations in the field of personality and behavior dynamics.

NUS announced the results in a press release on Tuesday August 16.


The research team was led by Associate Professor Jia Lile from the Department of Psychology at NUS and included Yuen Wei Lun, PhD student at NUS Business School, Dr. Ong Qiyan from NUS Social Service Research Center and Associate Professor Walter Theseira from SUSS .

It used a series of tests to compare the self-control profile of 1,442 extreme debtors in Singapore with those of two control groups – a sample of the general population and another of students from an elite university, a group known for excelling in self-control. control.

The measurement of the control group took place in two waves.

In the first wave, 940 Singaporean adults and university students completed a self-reported questionnaire called the Self-Control Scale Test (BSCS).

In the second wave, 576 Singaporean adults and university students completed the BSCS, along with two other tests related to behavioral measurement.

The self-monitoring profiles of the extreme debtors were compared with those of the two control groups.


The study concluded that extreme debtors scored very high on measures that require them to assess their own self-control, higher, in fact, than groups of Singaporeans without debt problems.

However, extreme debtors perform poorly on objective measures that rely less on self-reporting.

The study results also showed that extreme debtors can face a double whammy of poor self-control capacity reflected in their overspending habits and poor “inhibitory control”, which refers to the ability to suppress or contradict a thought, action or feeling.

Professor Jia said the combination of low self-control ability and poor recognition is “perilous because debtors may place themselves in temptation-rich environments, such as convenient online shopping platforms, thinking they can suppress impulse buying when they can’t”. .

Professor Theseira added that as a group, extreme debtors tend to think they have very good self-control.

“Given the number of temptations that surround us daily, if you are unaware of your own self-control issues, you may not take steps to protect yourself.”

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