30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Baumeister’s ego depletion
Decision Making & Emotions
All fresh and crumbly, a biscuit sits on a plate under your nose. Can you resist it? It depends on what you’ve been up to earlier in the day. Research conducted over the last two decades by US psychologist Roy Baumeister has shown that willpower is a finite resource — straining to control yourself in one situation will leave you easily swayed later on. For example, in one classic study Baumeister instructed participants to sit in a room on their own, to resist the plate of chocolate biscuits and instead eat two or three of the radishes that were also available. Afterwards these abstemious participants gave up far earlier on an impossible puzzle than did other students who had been allowed to eat the biscuits. Bizarrely, a recent study showed that we can become ’ego-depleted’ — Baumeister’s term for when we’re willpower-fatigued — merely by imagining the turmoil of another person forced to exercise self-restraint. The good news is there’s evidence that, rather like a muscle, it’s possible to build up our willpower through practice. Resist that biscuit today and, who knows, maybe it will be easier tomorrow.
Like the fuel in your car, willpower is a finite resource — using it up in one situation will leave you vulnerable to temptation in another.
According to Northwestern University psychologist Loran Nordgren and his collaborators, one of the reasons we often leave ourselves open to temptation is that when we’re satiated — what they call a cold state — we underestimate the strength of our desires when we’re in a hot state (hungry, tired or lustful). They call this the ’restraint’ bias.
FESTINGER’S BORING TASK
KAHNEMAN & TVERSKY’S PROSPECT THEORY
If you’ve just eaten, you might be able to resist those chocolate biscuits, but don’t underestimate their appeal once you’re hungry again.