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Implicit Theories on Willpower: What do Lay Theories about Self-Control Strength Matter?

English title Implicit Theories on Willpower: What do Lay Theories about Self-Control Strength Matter?
Applicant Job Sutnar Veronika
Number 123313
Funding scheme Fellowships for prospective researchers
Research institution Department of Psychology Stanford University
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.10.2008 - 31.07.2010
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Keywords (7)

implicit theories; ego-depletion; self-regulation; self-control-strength; lay theories; self-control strength; ego depletion

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Some of the most provocative and influential research of the past decade has investigated the strength model of self-control. This model suggests that acts of self-regulation consume a resource that is limited, leaving people in a state of ego-depletion and making them less able to exert self-control on a subsequent task. This project investigated whether people's lay theories about willpower influence their self-regulation capacity by moderating ego-depletion. It was proposed that people differ in their implicit theories about the availability and depletability of self-control resources (or their "willpower"). Some people may think willpower is a limited resource, as described in the strength model of self-control. Others may believe that willpower is not limited and perhaps even that engaging in a strenuous task can activate self-control resources. The present research investigated the hypothesis that these implicit theories about willpower affect how well people self-regulate when demands on self-control accumulate. The assumptions were tested in three experiments and one longitudinal study. In Study 1, participants first filled in a survey assessing their theories about willpower. Next, they completed several tasks requiring self-control. The results showed that participants who thought that their willpower is a limited resource performed poorly on the second self-control task. In Studies 2 and 3 the basic procedure was the same as in Study 1 except that participants were led to either adopt a limited or a non-limited theory about willpower. The results showed that participants who were led to think of willpower as a limited resource performed worse on a series of self-control tasks while participants who were led to think that willpower is not limited did not show any decline in performance. In longitudinal Study 4 College students' theories about willpower were measured and then they were tracked across the school term. The two groups (students with a limited theory vs. non-limited theory) looked similar early in the term when demands on self-control were low. But when final exams hit, students who had the limited theory of willpower ate more candy and junk food, and procrastinated more. These findings cast doubt on the idea that people have a limited self-control "resource" that is easily depleted and that requires frequent replenishment. Taken together, the findings suggest that reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people's beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
131858 Implicit Theories about Willpower: Mechanisms, Replication, and Application 01.03.2011 Ambizione
131858 Implicit Theories about Willpower: Mechanisms, Replication, and Application 01.03.2011 Ambizione

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