Project

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Implicit Theories about Willpower: Mechanisms, Replication, and Application

English title Implicit Theories about Willpower: Mechanisms, Replication, and Application
Applicant Job Sutnar Veronika
Number 131858
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Psychologisches Institut Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.03.2011 - 30.09.2014
Approved amount 566'454.00
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Keywords (5)

Implicit Theories; Ego-depletion; Self-control; Strength model; Willpower

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
LeadPrevious research demonstrated that what people think about willpower, whether it is a limited or nonlimited resource, affects their self-regulation. This project examines mechanisms explaining these findings and explores their validity and utility in various contexts.BackgroundThe capacity to exert self-control by initiating and guiding behavior, resisting distractions, and managing emotions is one of the most important functions of the self. Self-control allows for long term goal-pursuit and it is important for the integration of an individual in society. The prominent theory of self-control for the last ten years was the strength model (e.g., Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). It asserts that self-control is a finite resource depleted with use. Accordingly, experiments demonstrated that peoples' performance decreased when they had to complete series of consecutive self-control tasks. Newest research, however, indicates that what people think about willpower considerably affects their self-control capacity (Job, Dweck, & Walton, 2010). It could be shown that people performed worse if they had the expectation that their willpower was a limited resource. On the other hand, people who thought that a first demanding task can activate their resources and be "energizing," performed just as well on following tasks.Aims of the ProjectOne aim of the present project is to examine more deeply the mechanisms that underlie the effects of implicit theories about willpower as well as to extend them to further aspects of self-control (e.g., resistance to temptations). Building on this basic research, the second aim will be to develop and test intervention techniques designed to support and improve peoples' efforts at self-regulating, particularly for populations who face special self-control demands (e.g., in the case of diabetes). Laboratory experiments as well as longitudinal field studies and intervention studies will be conducted to reach these aims.Significance of the Planned ResearchThe results from this project will have implications for vulnerable populations, including people struggling to avoid unhealthy habits (like overeating) or people in demanding situations (like final exams). Many behavioral and social problems - such as drug abuse, crime, unwanted pregnancy, overspending, or school underperformance - stem from failures in self-control. By showing that changing people's theories about willpower can actually change their impulsive behavior, this project can substantially contribute to the handling of a variety of these individual and social problems.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Beliefs About Willpower Are Related to Therapy Adherence and Psychological Adjustment in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
Bernecker Katharina, Job Veronika (2015), Beliefs About Willpower Are Related to Therapy Adherence and Psychological Adjustment in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes, in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 37, 188-195.
Beliefs about willpower moderate the effect of previous day demands on next day's expectations and effective goal striving
Bernecker Katharina, Job Veronika (2015), Beliefs about willpower moderate the effect of previous day demands on next day's expectations and effective goal striving, in Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1-10.
Effects of practicing self-control on academic performance
Job Veronika, Friese Malte, Bernecker Katharina (2015), Effects of practicing self-control on academic performance, in Motivation Science, 1, 219-232.
Implicit theories about willpower predict the activation of a rest goal following self-control exertion
Job Veronika, Bernecker Katharina, Miketta Stefanie, Friese Malte (2015), Implicit theories about willpower predict the activation of a rest goal following self-control exertion, in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 694-706.
Beliefs about willpower determine the impact of glucose on self-control
Job Veronika, Walton Gregory M., Bernecker Katharina, Dweck Carol Sorich (2013), Beliefs about willpower determine the impact of glucose on self-control, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(37), 14837-14842.
Implicit theories about willpower in resisting temptations and emotion control
Bernecker Kathariina, Job Veronika, Implicit theories about willpower in resisting temptations and emotion control, in Journal of Psychology.
Implicit theories about willpower predict self-regulation and grades in everyday life.
Job Veronika, Walton Gregory M., Bernecker Katharina, Dweck Carol S., Implicit theories about willpower predict self-regulation and grades in everyday life., in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Implicit theories about willpower predict subjective well-being
Bernecker Katharina, Herrmann Marcel, Brandstätter Veronika, Job Veronika, Implicit theories about willpower predict subjective well-being, in Journal of Personality.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Stanford University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Arbeitseinheit Sozialpsychologie, Universität des Saarlandes Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
17th general meeting of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) Talk given at a conference Implicit Theories about willpower predict rest-goal-activation following self-control exertion 09.07.2014 Amsterdam, Netherlands Job Sutnar Veronika;
17th general meeting of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP) Talk given at a conference Implicit theories about willpower predict preference for glucose vs. artificial sweetener after self-control exertion 09.07.2014 Amsterdam, Netherlands Bernecker Katharina;
13th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society (SSP) Talk given at a conference “That was exhausting, I need a break!”: A limited theory of willpower predicts rest-goal-activation following self-control exertion 11.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland Job Sutnar Veronika;
13th Congress of the Swiss Psychological Society (SSP) Poster When Do People Want Sugar? 11.09.2013 Basel, Switzerland Bernecker Katharina;
Fachgruppentagung Sozialpsychologie Talk given at a conference Veränderung von impliziten Theorien über Willenskraft verbessert Selbstkontrolle unter Stress 01.09.2013 Hagen, Germany Bernecker Katharina;
Meeting of the European Social Cognition Network (ESCON) Talk given at a conference Implicit theories about willpower predict preference for sugar after self-control exertion 27.08.2013 Vilnius, Lithuania Bernecker Katharina;
European Social Cognition Network Meeting (ESCON) Talk given at a conference Beliefs about willpower determine the impact of glucose on self-control 27.08.2013 Vilnius, Lithuania Job Sutnar Veronika;
25th Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) Talk given at a conference “That was exhausting, I need a break!”: A limited theory of willpower predicts rest-goal-activation following self-control exertion 24.05.2013 Washington, DC, United States of America Job Sutnar Veronika;
6th Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Motivation (SSM) Talk given at a conference Are Implicit Motives the Need to Feel Certain Affect? Motive-Affect Congruence Predicts Relationship Satisfaction 23.05.2013 Washington, DC, United States of America Job Sutnar Veronika;
Annual Meeting of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) Talk given at a conference Does glucose really boost willpower? Implicit theories vs. glucose as determinants of self-control 26.10.2012 Austin, Textas, United States of America Job Sutnar Veronika;
48. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie (DGPS) Talk given at a conference Veränderung von Impliziten Theorien der Willenskraft verbessert Selbstregulation unter Stress 24.10.2012 Bielefeld, Germany Bernecker Katharina;
48. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie (DGPS) Talk given at a conference Implizite Theorien vs. Glucose als Determinanten von Selbstkontrolle. 24.10.2012 Bielefeld, Germany Job Sutnar Veronika;
European Social Cognition Network (ESCON) Meeting Talk given at a conference Exploring the mechanism of implicit theories about willpower 04.09.2012 Estoril, Portugal Bernecker Katharina;
Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Talk given at a conference Changing lay theories about willpower improves self-regulation under stress 27.01.2012 San Diego, United States of America Bernecker Katharina;
12th Congress of the Swiss Society of Psychology (SSP), Talk given at a conference Ego-depletion – Is it all in your head? Implicit theories about willpower affect self-regulation. 12.09.2011 Freiburg, Switzerland Job Sutnar Veronika;
Jacobs Foundation Conference Poster Implicit theories about willpower: Effects on adolescents’ self-regulation and goal striving. 06.04.2011 Marbach, Germany Job Sutnar Veronika;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Vorsätze können gelingen! Referat am 3-Club-Treffen, Soroptimist Internation Club German-speaking Switzerland 2013
Media relations: radio, television Die Grenzen der guten Vorsätze Quarks&co International 2012
Media relations: print media, online media Keine Kraft mehr? Vielleicht bilden Sie sich das nur ein! Psychologie Heute International German-speaking Switzerland 2012
Media relations: print media, online media Vorsätze fürs neue Jahr können gelingen! NZZ am Sonntag German-speaking Switzerland 2012
Talks/events/exhibitions Scientifica German-speaking Switzerland 2011

Awards

Title Year
Conrad-Ferdinand-Meyer-Preis 2016

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
123313 Implicit Theories on Willpower: What do Lay Theories about Self-Control Strength Matter? 01.10.2008 Fellowships for prospective researchers
123313 Implicit Theories on Willpower: What do Lay Theories about Self-Control Strength Matter? 01.10.2008 Fellowships for prospective researchers
159395 Effects of Implicit Theories About Willpower on Self-Regulation, Goal Striving, and Well-Being: A Life-Span Perspective 01.11.2015 Project funding

Abstract

Numerous studies have demonstrated that people differ in the conceptions they have about themselves and others and that these conceptions have a considerable impact on a variety of aspects of individual functioning such as goal striving, achievement, self-esteem, or interpersonal relations (e.g., Dweck, 1999; Molden & Dweck, 2006). These lay conceptions (e.g., the belief that intelligence or personality are fixed vs. malleable) have been referred to as implicit theories. In an ongoing research project I am conducting at Stanford University in cooperation with Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton I am investigating implicit theories regarding a psychological phenomenon that was not previously investigated from this perspective. I postulated that people differ in the implicit theories they have about the availability of willpower. A very prominent and influential theory, the strength model of self-control (e.g., Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007), postulates that acts of self-control consume energy from a limited resource leaving less energy available for subsequent acts of self-control. This phenomenon, whereby the energy from a limited resource is used, is termed ego-depletion. In the ongoing research project we linked ego-depletion research with the implicit theory approach by showing that the way people think about acts of self-control (as consuming from a limited vs. as a nonlimited resource) affects their self-regulation ability and their personal goal striving (Job, Dweck, & Walton, under review). In other words, people showed ego-depletion after a demanding task only if they believed that strenuous tasks deplete resources, but not if they believed that demanding tasks are energizing. These studies form the headstone for the research project I describe in this proposal. Within three sub-projects I want to investigate mechanisms mediating the effects of implicit theories (Project A), replicate previous findings within different areas of self-control (Project B), and investigate implicit theories about willpower in an applied context (Project C). Project A is aiming at showing that when people think that their willpower is depleting through an initial act of self-control (limited resource theory) they implicitly pursue the goal of preserving and replenishing their resources after they experienced a task as exhausting. This activation of a “rest” goal makes them decrease in their effort and performance. I will test this hypothesis in a series of four laboratory experiments. Participants’ implicit theories about willpower will be manipulated and they will process two seemingly independent self-control tasks (the first one will contain a depletion manipulation). Additionally, the activation of a “rest” vs. “effort” goal will be measured, right after the depletion manipulation. In Study 1 participants will solve a sequential priming task on a computer which will measure the association of rest- and effort- stimuli with positive and negative valence. In Study 2 the approach vs. avoidance behavioral response towards rest- and effort- stimuli will be assessed with the joystick paradigm. In a next step Study 3 will investigate the evaluation of products and activities with rest or effort character. Finally, Study 4 will contain a direct behavioral measure giving participants the choice between a recreational or strenuous task. The aims of Project B will be to replicate and extend the previous findings about implicit theories moderating ego-depletion regarding different self-control tasks: Resistance to temptation (Study 5) and emotion suppression (Study 6). In a final longitudinal study (Study 7) I will test the effect of implicit theories about willpower over time. A sample of undergraduate students will be tracked over two months filling in a set of questionnaires every week. Besides implicit theories about willpower and self-regulatory behavior an individuated measure of self-regulatory demands (stress and demanding life circumstances) will be included in this study. With these data I will test the prediction that implicit theories interact with self-regulatory demands in predicting changes in self-regulatory behavior.Project C will investigate implicit theories about willpower in the context of diabetes since successful self-regulation is of high importance for the management of this disease. First, a longitudinal study (Study 8) will examine how implicit theories are related to diabetes specific self-regulation (keeping a diet, exercising, glucose testing, and medication taking) and health status. Finally, in Study 9 an intervention technique specifically for patients with diabetes will be developed and tested for its effects on successful self-control and health outcomes.Taken together, these studies will provide important insight into the understanding of implicit theories about willpower as a top-down process affecting self-regulation and into the possibility of employing these processes for the promotion of successful self-regulation.
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