Joshua Ackerman2014-09-30 6:28 PM

You wear me out: The vicarious depletion of self-control

Abstract

Acts of self-control may deplete an individual’s self-regulatory resources. But what are the consequences of perceiving other people’s use of self-control? Mentally simulating the actions of others has been found to elicit psychological effects consistent with the actual performance of those actions. Here, we consider how simulating versus merely perceiving the use of willpower can affect self-control abilities. In Study 1, participants who simulated the perspective of a person exercising self-control exhibited less restraint over spending on consumer products than did other participants. In Study 2, participants who took the perspective of a person using self-control exerted less willpower on an unrelated lexical generation task than did participants who took the perspective of a person who did not use self-control. Conversely, participants who merely read about another person’s self- control exerted more willpower than did those who read about actions not requiring self-control. These findings suggest that the actions of other people may either deplete or boost one’s own self-control, depending on whether one mentally simulates those actions or merely perceives them.


Full Article

Published in Psychological Science, 2009.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joshua Ackerman

Assistant Professor of Marketing, and the Class of 1957 Career Development Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management

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