Implicit Theories About Willpower Predict Self-Regulation and Grades in Everyday Life

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Apr;108(4):637-47. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000014.

Abstract

Laboratory research shows that when people believe that willpower is an abundant (rather than highly limited) resource they exhibit better self-control after demanding tasks. However, some have questioned whether this "nonlimited" theory leads to squandering of resources and worse outcomes in everyday life when demands on self-regulation are high. To examine this, we conducted a longitudinal study, assessing students' theories about willpower and tracking their self-regulation and academic performance. As hypothesized, a nonlimited theory predicted better self-regulation (better time management and less procrastination, unhealthy eating, and impulsive spending) for students who faced high self-regulatory demands. Moreover, among students taking a heavy course load, those with a nonlimited theory earned higher grades, which was mediated by less procrastination. These findings contradict the idea that a limited theory helps people allocate their resources more effectively; instead, it is people with the nonlimited theory who self-regulate well in the face of high demands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Young Adult