Making choices impairs subsequent self-control: a limited-resource account of decision making, self-regulation, and active initiative

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2008 May;94(5):883-98. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.94.5.883.


The current research tested the hypothesis that making many choices impairs subsequent self-control. Drawing from a limited-resource model of self-regulation and executive function, the authors hypothesized that decision making depletes the same resource used for self-control and active responding. In 4 laboratory studies, some participants made choices among consumer goods or college course options, whereas others thought about the same options without making choices. Making choices led to reduced self-control (i.e., less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations). A field study then found that reduced self-control was predicted by shoppers' self-reported degree of previous active decision making. Further studies suggested that choosing is more depleting than merely deliberating and forming preferences about options and more depleting than implementing choices made by someone else and that anticipating the choice task as enjoyable can reduce the depleting effect for the first choices but not for many choices.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Affect
  • Arousal
  • Attention
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Pain Threshold
  • Problem Solving
  • Social Conformity