Ego Depletion


Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower is an exhaustible resource that can be used up. When that energy is low, mental activity that requires self-control is impaired. In other words, using one’s self-control impairs the ability to control one’s self later on. In an illustrative experiment on ego depletion, participants who controlled themselves by trying not to laugh while watching a comedian did worse on a later task that required self-control compared to participants who watching the video and were free to laugh.

Much of the early research on ego depletion was performed by social psychologists Roy Baumeister, Mark Muraven, and their colleagues. In a recent series of studies, they suggest that a positive mood stimulus could help restore the depleted energy. For example, watching short clips of stand-up comedy by Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy can restores the capacity to self-regulate. The work is experimental and does not consider in depth the mechanisms by which performance is restored. Whether it is because of an actual restoration of self-regulatory resources or provides an additional motivation to press on with a depleted self remains an open question., and a study from Carol Dweck and other researchers from Stanford University, questions the ego depletion theory, and presents evidence that ‘a person’s mindset and personal beliefs about willpower determine how long and how well they’ll be able to work on a tough mental exercise.’

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