A Series of Meta-Analytic Tests of the Depletion Effect: Self-control Does Not Seem to Rely on a Limited Resource

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2015 Aug;144(4):796-815. doi: 10.1037/xge0000083. Epub 2015 Jun 15.

Abstract

Failures of self-control are thought to underlie various important behaviors (e.g., addiction, violence, obesity, poor academic achievement). The modern conceptualization of self-control failure has been heavily influenced by the idea that self-control functions as if it relied upon a limited physiological or cognitive resource. This view of self-control has inspired hundreds of experiments designed to test the prediction that acts of self-control are more likely to fail when they follow previous acts of self-control (the depletion effect). Here, we evaluated the empirical evidence for this effect with a series of focused, meta-analytic tests that address the limitations in prior appraisals of the evidence. We find very little evidence that the depletion effect is a real phenomenon, at least when assessed with the methods most frequently used in the laboratory. Our results strongly challenge the idea that self-control functions as if it relies on a limited psychological or physical resource.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ego*
  • Humans
  • Self-Control*