The Bitter Truth About Sugar and Willpower: The Limited Evidential Value of the Glucose Model of Ego Depletion

Psychol Sci. 2016 Sep;27(9):1207-14. doi: 10.1177/0956797616654911. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


The idea behind ego depletion is that willpower draws on a limited mental resource, so that engaging in an act of self-control impairs self-control in subsequent tasks. To present ego depletion as more than a convenient metaphor, some researchers have proposed that glucose is the limited resource that becomes depleted with self-control. However, there have been theoretical challenges to the proposed glucose mechanism, and the experiments that have tested it have found mixed results. We used a new meta-analytic tool, p-curve analysis, to examine the reliability of the evidence from these experiments. We found that the effect sizes reported in this literature are possibly influenced by publication or reporting bias and that, even within studies yielding significant results, the evidential value of this research is weak. In light of these results, and pending further evidence, researchers and policymakers should refrain from drawing any conclusions about the role of glucose in self-control.

Keywords: ego depletion; glucose; meta-analysis; open data; p-curve; self-control.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ego*
  • Glucose / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self-Control / psychology*
  • Sugars / supply & distribution*


  • Sugars
  • Glucose