Journal of Undergraduate Research


ego-depletion, self-control, willpower, rewards and punishments


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




Recent research suggests that willpower–the capacity to exert self-control–is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion (Job, Dweck & Walton, 2010). We aimed to explore the influence of ego-depletion on how we process rewards and punishment. Ego depletion specifically refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up (i.e., depleted) after cognitive exertion. For example, an experiment performed by Kathleen Vohs and Todd Heatherton (2000) demonstrated how ego depletion was relevant in how it affected chronic dieters compared to non-dieters. Their results showed that dieters, in responding to an emotional suppression task, ate more ice cream in a taste test than non-dieters under the same conditions. They concluded that this response was due to the ego-depleting effect of dieting on these individuals. Indeed, research has shown depletion is associated with an uptake of alcohol consumption (Muraven, Collins, & Nienhaus, 2002), overeating (Kahan, Polivy, & Herman, 2003; Vohs & Heatherton, 2000), impulsive spending (Vohs & Faber, 2007), and increased responding to sexual urges (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007). These studies, among others, show the negative effect that depletion has on daily decisions. Depletion can influence our day-to-day choices and actions in a variety of important ways.

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