Ego depletion

Have you ever completely lost your willpower? This coild be related to the concept of ego depletion.

An experiment was made which involved memorizing a series of digits for a period of time. This involves what is called System 2 thinking; focused, deliberate and non-intuitive. This requires a lot of energy.

When the subject was approached with a decision between eating a chocolate cake or a fruit salad, the cake was far more likely. This is because System 2 is currently under full workload and cannot make further rational or analytic decisions without giving up on the initial task. This assumes the subject actively practiced self control diet wise.

Ego depletion is when you are more likely to give up self control because of previous mental extortion.

Examples of mental tasks which are prone to ego depletion:

  • avoiding the thought of white bears
  • inhibiting the emotional response to a stirring film
  • making a series of choices that involve conflict
  • trying to impress others
  • responding kindly to a partner’s bad behavior
  • interacting with a person of a different race (for prejudiced individuals)

Examples of symptoms from ego depletion:

  • deviating from one’s diet
  • overspending on impulsive purchases
  • reacting aggressively to provocation
  • persisting less time in a handgrip task
  • performing poorly in cognitive tasks and logical decision making

One can think about what these things have in common with stress and burnout.

Sources: Baumeister and Kahneman

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