Back to overview

Implicit theories about willpower predict the activation of a rest goal following self-control exertion

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2015
Author Job Veronika, Bernecker Katharina, Miketta Stefanie, Friese Malte,
Project Implicit Theories about Willpower: Mechanisms, Replication, and Application
Show all

Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume (Issue) 109
Page(s) 694 - 706
Title of proceedings Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
DOI 10.1037/pspp0000042


Past research indicates that peoples’ implicit theories about the nature of willpower moderate the ego depletion effect. Only people who believe or were led to believe that willpower is a limited resource (limited-resource theory) showed lower self-control performance after an initial demanding task. As of yet, the underlying processes explaining this moderating effect by theories about willpower remain unknown. Here, we propose that the exertion of self-control activates the goal to preserve and replenish mental resources (rest goal) in people with a limited-resource theory. Five studies test this hypothesis. In Study 1, individual differences in implicit theories about willpower predicted increased accessibility of a rest goal after self-control exertion. Furthermore, measured (Study 2) and manipulated (Study 3) willpower theories predicted an increased preference for rest-conducive objects. Finally, Studies 4 and 5 provide evidence that theories about willpower predict actual resting behavior: In Study 4, participants who held a limited-resource theory took a longer break following self-control exertion than participants with a nonlimited-resource theory. Longer resting time predicted decreased rest goal accessibility afterwards. In Study 5, participants with an induced limited-resource theory sat longer on chairs in an ostensible product-testing task when they had engaged in a task requiring self-control beforehand. This research provides consistent support for a motivational shift toward rest after ego depletion in people holding a limited theory about willpower.