DOI

  • Christoph Lindner
  • Gabriel Nagy
  • Wolfgang Andreas Ramos Arhuis
  • Jan Retelsdorf
Exerting self-control in a first task weakens self-control performance in a subsequent unrelated task (ego depletion). In self-control research new strategies are required to investigate the ego-depletion effect, which has recently been shown to be more fragile than previously assumed. Moreover, the relation between ego depletion and trait self-control is still unclear, as various studies have reported heterogeneous findings concerning the interplay of both variables. We addressed these lacunas by drawing on a sample of N = 120 students, who participated in two test sessions. In the first test session, we assessed trait self-control and several control variables. The second test session followed an experimental design and tested the effects of ego depletion on invested effort and cognitive performance trajectories in an ecologically valid computer-based assessment setting (i.e., a 30-minute mathematical problem-solving and reasoning test). Trait self-control was then used as a moderator of the ego-depletion effect. Combining an established ego-depletion paradigm (i.e., the sequential-task paradigm) with multilevel modeling of time-on-task and performance changes, our results indicate (1) that trait self-control predicted the motivation to solve cognitive tasks, (2) that ego depletion led to a progressive performance decrease, and (3) that the negative effect of ego depletion on performance was stronger for students with high trait self-control. Additional analyses revealed that our results could not be alternatively explained by fatigue effects. All effects were robust even after controlling for the students’ cognitive abilities, which are known to be closely related to mathematical performance. Our results provide evidence that the self-control invested in order to keep performance at a consistently high level wanes over time. By modeling progressive ego-depletion effects while considering trait self-control, we provide an alternative approach that may help future researchers to investigate the underlying mechanisms of self-control.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0180149
JournalPLoS One
Volume12
Issue6
Number of pages22
DOIs
StatePublished - 29.06.2017

ID: 812187