A series of meta-analytic tests of the depletion effect: Self-control does not seem to rely on a limited resource

Evan C. Carter, Lilly M. Kofler, Daniel E. Forster, Michael E. McCullough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

228 Scopus citations

Abstract

Failures of self-control are thought to underlie various important behaviors (e.g., addiction, violence, obesity, poor academic achievement). The modern conceptualization of self-control failure has been heavily influenced by the idea that self-control functions as if it relied upon a limited physiological or cognitive resource. This view of self-control has inspired hundreds of experiments designed to test the prediction that acts of self-control are more likely to fail when they follow previous acts of self-control (the depletion effect). Here, we evaluated the empirical evidence for this effect with a series of focused, meta-analytic tests that address the limitations in prior appraisals of the evidence. We find very little evidence that the depletion effect is a real phenomenon, at least when assessed with the methods most frequently used in the laboratory. Our results strongly challenge the idea that self-control functions as if it relies on a limited psychological or physical resource.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)796-815
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume144
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

Keywords

  • Ego depletion
  • Meta-analysis
  • Publication bias
  • Self-control
  • Self-regulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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