Ego depletion is a concept from motivational psychology which proposes that willpower is a finite mental energy (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, & Tice, 1998). The ego is thought to function like a muscle (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000) and can enter a state of fatigue and exhaustion through taxing tasks.
When the ego is depleted, self control is impaired, leading to a myriad of terrible consequences: uncontrolled devouring of ice cream (Vohs & Heatherton, 2000), subpar athletic performance (Dorris, Power, & Kenefick, 2012), choosing a chocolate cake over fruit salad (Shiv & Fedorikhin, 1999), sticking needles into voodoo dolls representing a spouse (Bushman, DeWall, Pond, & Hanus, 2014), and even the deterioration of human capabilities that should be resistant to miniscule, temporary influences, such as the IQ (Schmeichel, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2003).
Similarly, when the “muscle of the mind” rests, its energy replenishes over time. This can be facilitated through the mind-equivalent of a nice massage, such as playing video games (Reinecke, Hartmann, & Eden, 2014) or masturbating (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007), though not necessarily in that order. While research on ego depletion has recently faced some criticism (see for example Carter, Kofler, Forster, & McCollough, 2015; Xu et al., 2014), this may be itself caused by academic egos depleted from receiving too many rejection letters for failed replications.
Everybody knows that physical exercise can cause low blood sugar – but Gailliot et al. (2007) have discovered that the same mechanism is involved in ego depletion! Expending willpower energy for self-regulation (e.g., through the suppression of racist thoughts) reduces blood glucose levels, subsequently impairing self-control and performance in various tasks. Thus, glucose might be the fuel on which the motor of our ego is running!
Psychological research has proven that avoiding ego depletion is pivotal to leading a successful and happy life. A completely charged ego ensures
- functioning at maximum capacities at your workplace
- optimal performance in your love life
- being loved by friends and family
- an elevated mood in the face of any obstacle
- lifelong vitality and health
- equilibrium of body, mind, and soul
In short, a restored ego is the key to intra- and interindividual harmony.
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Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252–1265. doi: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2062 [.pdf]
Bushman, B. J., DeWall, C. N., Pond, R. S., & Hanus, M. D. (2014). Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(17), 6254–6257. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1400619111 [.pdf]
Carter, E. C., Kofler, L. M., Forster, D. E., & McCullough, M. E. (2015). A series of meta-analytic tests of the depletion effect: Self-control does not seem to rely on a limited resource. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(4), 796-815. doi: 10.1037/xge0000083 [.pdf]
Dorris, D. C., Power, D. A., & Kenefick, E. (2012). Investigating the effects of ego depletion on physical exercise routines of athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(2), 118–125. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.10.004
Gailliot, M. T., & Baumeister, R. F. (2007). Self-regulation and sexual restraint: Dispositionally and temporarily poor self-regulatory abilities contribute to failures at restraining sexual behavior. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 33(2), 173–186. doi: 10.1177/0146167206293472
Gailliot, M. T., Baumeister, R. F., DeWall, C. N., Maner, J. K., Plant, E. A., Tice, D. M., Brewer, L. E., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(2), 325–336. doi: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.115 [.pdf]
Muraven, M., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Self-regulation and depletion of limited resources: Does self-control resemble a muscle? Psychological Bulletin, 126(2), 247–259. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.2.247 [.pdf]
Reinecke, L., Hartmann, T., & Eden, A. (2014). The guilty couch potato: The role of ego depletion in reducing recovery through media use. Journal of Communication, 64(4), 569–589. doi: 10.1111/jcom.12107
Schmeichel, B. J., Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (2003). Intellectual performance and ego depletion: Role of the self in logical reasoning and other information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(1), 33–46. doi: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168 [.pdf]
Shiv, B., & Fedorikhin, A. (1999). Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making. Journal of Consumer Research, 26(3), 278–292. doi: 10.1086/209563 [.pdf]
Xu, X., Demos, K. E., Leahey, T. M., Hart, C. N., Trautvetter, J., Coward, P., Middleton, K. R., & Wing, R. R. (2014). Failure to replicate depletion of self-control. PloS ONE, 9(10), e109950. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109950 [.pdf]