|New Research Explores the Changing Shape of Temptation|
January 4, 2013 – It’s that time again—the end of one year and the beginning of another—when people resolve to make some changes in their lives. New Year’s resolutions are certainly nothing new—in fact, for many people, they are the same year after year. Making and breaking resolutions is something of a tradition. A new study from the Barna Group examines the temptations Americans say they most commonly struggle with—and how they resolve to deal with these moral and ethical lures.
The research reveals some new—and not so new—aspects to the temptations facing today’s adults. The research was conducted in conjunction with a book project from Todd Hunter called Our Favorite Sins.
Though sexual sins are nothing new, viewing pornography online continues to escalate and take on new forms as the Internet and social media evolve. Nearly one in five Americans (18%) say they are tempted to view pornography or sexually inappropriate content online. Men more commonly admit being tempted to view porn than women (28% versus 8%).
It is not surprising the most technologically oriented generation—the Millennials, or Mosaics—are more likely than average to admit to struggling with these temptations of modern technology. More than half of Millennials (53%) say they are tempted to over-use screens and one-quarter (25%) feel the temptation to use technology to express their anger at others. When it comes to viewing pornography online, Millennials are significantly more likely than other generations to admit to wrestling with this temptation: more than one quarter (27%) say they are tempted by online pornography, while only 22% of Busters, 15% of Boomers and 8% of Elders say the same.
When it comes to other more “traditional” sins, about one-third of Americans admit to spending too much money (35%), one-quarter say they are tempted to gossip or say mean things about others (26%), a similar number struggle with envy or jealousy (24%), a little more than one in ten admit to being tempted to lie or cheat (12%) and about the same number say they are tempted by alcohol or drugs (11%).
Though Millennials admit to being more tempted by these things than any other generation, the answers are fairly consistent across ages. The one exception being envy or jealousy, which Millennials are significantly more likely to admit to (41% verses 29% of Busters, 19% of Boomers and 15% of Elders). This is perhaps a life-stage factor as twentysomethings try to find their place and establish a lifestyle. Though it could also point to the effects of nearly ubiquitous consumer advertising on a generation that’s been marketed to more than any previous age group.
Particularly Western Temptations
Such angst regarding productivity may be a result of the Puritan work ethic or of a society driven by busyness and material success. Either way, they reveal the high value Americans place on work—and the anxiety surrounding it.
Why Do People Give In?
Is Resistance Futile?
Those who try to avoid “giving in” implement a variety of coping mechanisms, from simply walking away to recalling Scripture to exercising. The most common way Americans say they avoid temptation is to pray and ask God for strength—about one in five of those who resist (18%) say this is what they usually do to hold back temptation.
Other common responses include using reason to weigh the options (12%), choosing to just say “no” (10%), and simply avoiding or staying away from the situation altogether (10%). Most of the ways people say they resist temptation are fairly individualistic—only 4% of people say they talk to or call someone else when they are tempted and a mere 1% say they seek the company of others or attend a meeting. In general, Americans seem to rely on their own willpower (through reasoning, leaving the situation, thinking about something else, or focusing on positive thoughts—about 4%-5% each) or on a distracting activity (exercise, work, going for a walk, listening to music, going to bed—about 2%-3% each).
First, morality in America is undergoing a shift. One example of that is how temptation has gone "virtual." It now shadows many of the digital domains of contemporary life. Nearly half of Americans admit to being tempted to use too much media and one in nine admit to expressing their anger digitally. For faith leaders, this shift underscores the importance of including technology and media as part of a broader discussion of spirituality and stewardship.
Second, Millennials are significantly more likely to admit to being lured by most of the temptations assessed in the research. Why is that? Given their stage of life, are they simply more likely to be confronted by tempting situations than are older generations? Or is it that younger adults are more comfortable admitting to them in the context of a survey? Perhaps the perceived social consequences of being honest about personal struggles are dropping—or it’s merely the angst of youth, worrying about things older adults simply no longer worry as much about. The bigger concern is if Millennials are beginning to accept these emotions as normal and not inherently wrong—as a result of media influence, normative peer behavior and shifting values. Whatever the case, a distinct moral perspective seems to be emerging among younger adults when compared to older generations. Millions of Millennials do not see temptation as something to be avoided, but rather a relatively benign feature of modern life.
Third, distinctly work-related vices top the list of Americans' temptations. As a society, are Americans really most concerned with procrastination and productivity? People seem to be more aware of (or willing to admit to) "sins" that actually make them look better—i.e., it's somewhat self-serving to admit procrastination or laziness because it reflects well on one's work ethic. But few people want to admit to being envious or mean or tempted sexually. But, of the list, productivity is not exactly the most biblical pursuit—that specific "temptation" is much more reflective of American values than of core biblical themes.
Finally, only 1% of Americans of any age are able to articulate that giving in to temptation might be caused by sin. Most Americans think of temptation more as a steady stream of highs and lows that must be navigated. This reveals a gap in biblical thought on the subject of temptation among the nation’s population.
About the Research
This study used an online research panel called KnowledgePanel® based on probability sampling that covers both the online and offline populations in the U.S. The panel members are randomly recruited by telephone and by self-administered mail and web surveys. Households are provided with access to the Internet and hardware if needed. Unlike other Internet research that covers only individuals with Internet access who volunteer for research, this process uses a dual sampling frame that includes both listed and unlisted phone numbers, telephone and non-telephone households, and cell-phone-only households. The panel is not limited to current Web users or computer owners. All potential panelists are randomly selected to join the KnowledgePanel; unselected volunteers are not able to join.
Based upon U.S. Census data sources, regional and ethnic quotas were designed to ensure that the final group of adults interviewed reflected the distribution of adults nationwide and adequately represented the three primary ethnic groups within the U.S. (those groups which comprise at least 10% of the population: white, black, and Hispanic).
People are identified as having a practicing faith if they have attended a church service in the past month and say their religious faith is very important in their life.
Generations: Mosaics / Millennials are a generation born between 1984 through 2002; Busters, born between 1965 and 1983; Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964; and Elders were born in 1945 or earlier.
The research was commissioned by Thomas Nelson in associated with the launch of Todd Hunter’s book Our Favorite Sins.
About Barna Group
Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.
© Barna Group, 2012.