Is Self-Control A Finite Ability? New Research Could Suggest Otherwise

How many times can you say "No" before caving?

01/08/2016 12:54
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Self-control is a funny old thing. It’s our brain essentially arguing with itself and then finally coming to the understanding that what we’re doing is going to be the right decision in the long run.

Research on the subject has for some time suggested that self-control is a finite resource for humans. It’s not something we can just pull out of a hat and continue to use as and when we feel like it.

It’s called the ego-depletion effect and it suggests that using self-control on one task actually reduces our ability to exert self-control on another.

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This way of thinking could soon be under fire however as a new research project, involving 24 labs and over 2000 participants has failed to confirm our previous understanding on the phenomenon.

The teams in question essentially decided to repeat the previous experiments that in 2014 had formed the basis for our current understanding on the subject.

What they did though was make sure that each test was done in exactly the same way but across multiple labs, creating what they hoped would be an accurate and fair depiction of self-control.

What they found was that unlike the original 2014 study, there was very little evidence that ego-depletion effect existed at all. 

“Do the current results suggest that the ego-depletion effect does not exist after all? Certainly the current evidence does raise considerable doubts” explains the report.

The findings form part of a report which is being published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Getting a better understanding of how our brains deploy the ego-depletion effect is vital considering that our ability to exert self-control is critical to our functioning as a human being. Self-control, even on the tiniest scale, effects decisions we make based on physical health and mental well-being.

Some academics have warned that the test itself could be flawed however, and would not in fact be accurately testing the brain in such a way as to make ego-depletion visible.

The teams have suggested a number of avenues forward which can hopefully provide us with a clear and improved understanding of what happens to our brain when we say “no”, even if we don’t want to.

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