Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?
Roy E Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne M. Tice Case Western Reserve University Choice, active response, self-regulation, and other volition may all draw on a common inner resource. I n Experiment 1, people who forced themselves to eat radishes instead of tempting chocolates subsequently quit faster on unsolvable puzzles than people who had not had to exert self-control over eating. In Experiment 2, making a meaningful personal choice to perform attitude-relevant behavior caused a similar decrement in persistence. In Experiment 3, suppressing emotion led to a subsequent drop in performance of solvable anagrams. In Experiment 4, an initial task requiring high self-regulation made people more passive (i.e., more prone to favor the passive-response option). These results suggest that the self's capacity for active volition is limited and that a range of seemingly different, unrelated acts share a common resource.
Many crucial functions of the self involve volition: making choices and decisions, taking responsibility, initiating and inhibiting behavior, and making plans of action and carrying out those plans. The self exerts control over itself and over the external world. To be sure, not all human behavior involves planful or deliberate control by the self, and, in fact, recent work has shown that a great deal of human behavior is influenced by automatic or nonconscious processes (see Bargh, 1994, 1997). But undoubtedly some portion involves deliberate, conscious, controlled responses by the self, and that portion may be dispro-' portionately important to the long-term health, happiness, and success of the individual. Even if it were shown that 95% of behavior consisted of lawful, predictable responses to situational stimuli by automatic processes, psychology could not afford to ignore the remaining 5%. As an analogy, cars are probably driven straight ahead at least 95% of the time, but ignoring the other 5% (such as by building cars without steering wheels) would seriously compromise the car's ability to reach most destinations. By the same token, the relatively few active, controlling choices by the self greatly increase the s e l f ' s chances of achieving its goals. And if those few " s t e e r i n g " choices by the self are important, then so is whatever internal structure of the self is responsible for it. In the present investigation we were concerned with this controlling aspect of the self. Specifically, we tested hypotheses of
ego depletion, as a way of learning about the s e l f ' s executive function. The core idea behind ego depletion is that the s e l f ' s acts of volition draw on some limited resource, akin to strength or energy and that, therefore, one act of volition will have a detrimental impact on subsequent volition. We sought to show that a preliminary act of self-control in the form of resisting temptation (Experiment 1 ) or a preliminary act of choice and responsibility (Experiment 2) would undermine self-regulation in a subsequent, unrelated domain, namely persistence at a difficult and frustrating task. We then sought to verify that the effects of ego depletion are indeed maladaptive and detrimental to performance (Experiment 3). Last, we undertook to show that ego depletion resulting from acts of self-control would interfere with subsequent decision making by making people more passive (Experiment 4). Our research strategy was to look at effects that would carry over across wide gaps of seeming irrelevance. If resisting the temptation to eat chocolate can leave a person prone to give up faster on a difficult, frustrating puzzle, that would suggest that those two very different acts of self-control draw on the same limited resource. And if making a choice about whether to make a speech contrary to one's opinions were to have the same effect, it would suggest that that very same resource is also the one used in general...
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