Depletion makes the heart grow less helpful: helping as a function of self-regulatory energy and genetic relatedness

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Dec;34(12):1653-62. doi: 10.1177/0146167208323981.


Often people are faced with conflict between prosocial motivations for helping and selfish impulses that favor not helping. Three studies tested the hypothesis that self-regulation is useful for managing such motivational conflicts. In each study, depleted self-regulatory energy reduced willingness to help others. Participants who broke a habit, relative to participants who followed a habit, later reported reduced willingness to help in hypothetical scenarios (e.g., donating food or money; Studies 1 and 3). Controlling attention while watching a video, relative to watching it normally, reduced volunteering efforts to help a victim of a recent tragedy- but drinking a glucose drink undid this effect (Study 2). Depleted energy reduced helping toward strangers but it did not reduce helping toward family members (Study 3). Helping requires self-regulatory energy to manage conflict between selfish and prosocial motivations-a metabolically expensive process-and thus depleted energy reduces helping and increased energy (glucose) increases helping.

MeSH terms

  • Altruism
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Drinking Behavior
  • Energy Intake / physiology
  • Family Relations
  • Glucose / administration & dosage
  • Glucose / physiology
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Motivation*
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Video Recording
  • Visual Perception


  • Glucose