Title: Getting into it. Exerting self-control enhances self-control performance at similar tasks
Authors: Dewitte, Siegfried ×
Bruyneel, Sabrina
Geyskens, K. #
Issue Date: Feb-2008
Host Document: The Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology 2008 Winter Conference pages:377-377
Conference: The Society for Consumer Psychology Conference edition:2008 location:New Orleans (USA) date:21-23 February 2008
Abstract: The self-regulation strength model states that exerting self-control taxes a limited resource that is akin to energy or strength, and thus brings people in a state of resource depletion. This state reduces people’s capacity to exert self-control in the period following their previous self-control effort. Although the basic finding is undisputed, the nature of the scarce mental resource remains elusive. Based on cognitive control theory, we propose that depletion effects result from an individual’s attempts to adapt to a situation characterized by a response conflict. This adaptation involves the recruitment of control processes to increase the fit between the individual’s response set and the demands of that particular situation. As a consequence however, the fit between the individual’s response set and the demands of a new situation characterized by a response conflict recruiting different control processes temporarily
decreases. The implication is that the typical depletion effect should occur only if successfully dealing with the subsequent response conflicts in two self-control situations requires dissimilar control processes, but that it should reverse if similar control processes are required (i.e., self-control should improve).
In the first study, half of the female participants initially restricted their urge to consume sweets, which is assumed to be depleting, and engaged in a taste test (similar control processes) or a word anagram (dissimilar control processes) afterwards. Participants who inhibited their eating in phase one performed worse on the anagram task (i.e., replicating the depletion effect), but performed better on the taste test (i.e., reversing the depletion effect) than participants who initially engaged in a non-demanding control task.
In the second study, participants initially made 12 binary product choices or engaged in a nondemanding control task. Manipulated between subjects, choices presented a conflict between a planned purchase and an unplanned temptation (i.e., impulsive choices) or between an immediate but more expensive and a cheaper but delayed selling offer of the same product (i.e., impatient choices). Subsequently, all participants made two choices of either an impulsive or an impatient nature. In comparison with the control condition, self-control options were selected less often after a series of dissimilar choices (i.e., replicating the depletion effect), but more often after a series of similar choices (i.e., reversing the depletion effect).
Our data thus provide strong support for the cognitive control model. Implications for the selfregulation
strength model are drawn and avenues for future research are sketched.
For further information contact: Siegfried Dewitte (, Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven, Naamsestraat 69, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Research Centre for Marketing and Consumer Science, Leuven
× corresponding author
# (joint) last author

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