Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: a meta-analysis

Psychol Bull. 2010 Jul;136(4):495-525. doi: 10.1037/a0019486.


According to the strength model, self-control is a finite resource that determines capacity for effortful control over dominant responses and, once expended, leads to impaired self-control task performance, known as ego depletion. A meta-analysis of 83 studies tested the effect of ego depletion on task performance and related outcomes, alternative explanations and moderators of the effect, and additional strength model hypotheses. Results revealed a significant effect of ego depletion on self-control task performance. Significant effect sizes were found for ego depletion on effort, perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue, and blood glucose levels. Small, nonsignificant effects were found for positive affect and self-efficacy. Moderator analyses indicated minimal variation in the effect across sphere of depleting and dependent task, frequently used depleting and dependent tasks, presentation of tasks as single or separate experiments, type of dependent measure and control condition task, and source laboratory. The effect size was moderated by depleting task duration, task presentation by the same or different experimenters, intertask interim period, dependent task complexity, and use of dependent tasks in the choice and volition and cognitive spheres. Motivational incentives, training on self-control tasks, and glucose supplementation promoted better self-control in ego-depleted samples. Expecting further acts of self-control exacerbated the effect. Findings provide preliminary support for the ego-depletion effect and strength model hypotheses. Support for motivation and fatigue as alternative explanations for ego depletion indicate a need to integrate the strength model with other theories. Findings provide impetus for future investigation testing additional hypotheses and mechanisms of the ego-depletion effect.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ego*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Self Concept*
  • Task Performance and Analysis