Past research found that the ingestion of glucose can enhance self-control. It has been widely assumed that basic physiological processes underlie this effect. We hypothesized that the effect of glucose also depends on people's theories about willpower. Three experiments, both measuring (experiment 1) and manipulating (experiments 2 and 3) theories about willpower, showed that, following a demanding task, only people who view willpower as limited and easily depleted (a limited resource theory) exhibited improved self-control after sugar consumption. In contrast, people who view willpower as plentiful (a nonlimited resource theory) showed no benefits from glucose--they exhibited high levels of self-control performance with or without sugar boosts. Additionally, creating beliefs about glucose ingestion (experiment 3) did not have the same effect as ingesting glucose for those with a limited resource theory. We suggest that the belief that willpower is limited sensitizes people to cues about their available resources including physiological cues, making them dependent on glucose boosts for high self-control performance.
Keywords: cognitive performance; ego depletion; implicit theories; self theories.