Ego depletion--is it all in your head? implicit theories about willpower affect self-regulation

Psychol Sci. 2010 Nov;21(11):1686-93. doi: 10.1177/0956797610384745. Epub 2010 Sep 28.


Much recent research suggests that willpower--the capacity to exert self-control--is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion. We propose that whether depletion takes place or not depends on a person's belief about whether willpower is a limited resource. Study 1 found that individual differences in lay theories about willpower moderate ego-depletion effects: People who viewed the capacity for self-control as not limited did not show diminished self-control after a depleting experience. Study 2 replicated the effect, manipulating lay theories about willpower. Study 3 addressed questions about the mechanism underlying the effect. Study 4, a longitudinal field study, found that theories about willpower predict change in eating behavior, procrastination, and self-regulated goal striving in depleting circumstances. Taken together, the findings suggest that reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people's beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Attention
  • Efficiency
  • Ego*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Fatigue / psychology
  • Motivation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Self Concept*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stroop Test