A Preregistered Test of Competing Theories to Explain Ego Depletion Effects Using Psychophysiological Indicators of Mental Effort

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review

Authors

A prominent, hotly debated idea—the “ego depletion” phenomenon—suggests that engaging in effortful, demanding tasks leads to poorer subsequent self-control performance. Several theories seek to explain the emergence of ego depletion effects. The two most prominent ones are the strength model of self-control (Baumeister & Vohs, 2016) and the process model of self-control (Inzlicht & Schmeichel, 2012). Predictions of these models are predominantly identical on the behavioral level. The models’ predictions differ, however, on the level of invested mental effort. The present pre-registered study (N = 179) contrasted these competing predictions combining an established moderator counteracting ego depletion effects (i.e., self-affirmation) and psychophysiological indicators of mental effort (i.e., systolic blood pressure and preejection period). Our data provide moderate evidence for ego depletion—decrements in self-control performance after a high- versus low-demanding task in the nonaffirmed conditions. Self-affirmation had an unexpected effect: Contrary to previous research, self-affirmed participants performed similarly poorly as participants in the high demand + nonaffirmed condition. Although this unexpected finding limited the ability to contrast competing model predictions, it points to hitherto unknown effects of self-affirmation on self-control performance. Systolic blood pressure reactivity emerged as a valid indicator of invested mental effort, but the data show no sign of disengagement after a high-demanding task predicted by the process (but not the strength) model. We explore systolic blood pressure progression across the sequential task paradigm, suggest a testable account for the effects of self-affirmation on self-control performance, and discuss theoretical implications of the results for the two competing models. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)

Translated title of the contributionEin Vortest konkurrierender Theorien zur Erklärung von Ego-Depletionseffekten anhand psychophysiologischer Indikatoren mentaler Anstrengung
Original languageEnglish
JournalMotivation Science
Volume7
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)32-45
Number of pages14
ISSN2338-8113
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 03.2021

    Research areas

  • blood pressure, ego depletion, mental effort, preejection period, self-control
  • Business psychology

DOI