What Is Ego Depletion? Toward a Mechanistic Revision of the Resource Model of Self-Control

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2012 Sep;7(5):450-63. doi: 10.1177/1745691612454134.


According to the resource model of self-control, overriding one's predominant response tendencies consumes and temporarily depletes a limited inner resource. Over 100 experiments have lent support to this model of ego depletion by observing that acts of self-control at Time 1 reduce performance on subsequent, seemingly unrelated self-control tasks at Time 2. The time is now ripe, therefore, not only to broaden the scope of the model but to start gaining a precise, mechanistic account of it. Accordingly, in the current article, the authors probe the particular cognitive, affective, and motivational mechanics of self-control and its depletion, asking, "What is ego depletion?" This study proposes a process model of depletion, suggesting that exerting self-control at Time 1 causes temporary shifts in both motivation and attention that undermine self-control at Time 2. The article highlights evidence in support of this model but also highlights where evidence is lacking, thus providing a blueprint for future research. Though the process model of depletion may sacrifice the elegance of the resource metaphor, it paints a more precise picture of ego depletion and suggests several nuanced predictions for future research.

Keywords: attention; ego depletion; mechanism; motivation; self-control.