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.