Self-control, Planning, and Experience Sampling
Two recent investigations extend our understanding of self-regulation. One used experience sampling to explore self-control and ego depletion in everyday life. Findings indicate that feelings of depletion are indeed correlated with depleting events, accumulate during the day, and are particularly associated with poor sleep (both before and after) and relationship conflict. People with low trait self-control suffer more ego depletion than others, presumably because of poor management and the resultant stress. The other investigation links ego depletion to planning aversion. Noteworthy in context of recent questions about ego depletion is the high effect size stemming from using a longer manipulation than is typical. This offers both theoretical and methodological implications.
Weakness of the Will and Self-Knowledge
Philosophers have been pondering the problem of “weakness of the will” for millennia. Assume that Mary did A rather than B, even though she was convinced that B was the better thing to do all things considered. How is that possible? There are two major accounts of the problem of weakness of the will. The first is the claim that weakness of the will is constituted by acting contrary to one’s best judgement. The second is the claim that weakness of the wills is constituted by over-readily revising a resolution. Empirical studies show that the normal subjects consider “weakness of the will” a cluster concept that includes both judgement-violations and resolution-violations. Both the ‘‘evaluative” aspect (judgements about which action would be best) and the ‘‘executive” aspect (strong intentions, resolutions) seem to play a significant role in understanding the phenomenon of weakness of the will. We argue that this duality is rooted in the nature of the relevant kind of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge of rational beliefs and intentions is special because of the cognitive agency which is required in obtaining it. Our rational beliefs and intentions are not mere mental attitudes we find or observe in ourselves, we have to actively commit to them. When one believes or intends on the basis of reasons, these attitudes are more directly one’s own than other kinds of mental states (like sensations) that merely occur within one. We can know our sensations by a kind of inner observation. We can only know our beliefs and intentions, however, insofar as they are exercises of rational agency. Rational agency comprises both an element of believing or intending for a reason (evaluative) and believing or intending due to an act of avowal or a commitment (executive). Weakness of the will is thus only possible in creatures that have self-knowledge of rational beliefs and intentions.
Gesine Dreisbach, Universität Regensburg
How Changing Reward Prospects Modulate Voluntary Task Choice
Should I stay or should I go? At any given moment, living creatures have to decide whether to continue the current task or switch to an alternative task. Cognitive control is typically assumed to guide this balance between stability and flexibility. In my talk, I will present recent research showing how reward prospect modulates task choice (repeating vs. switching) depending on the immediate reward history. In one study, using the voluntary task switching paradigm and the voluntary switch rate VSR as a marker for cognitive flexibility, the VSR was higher when reward prospect increased or decreased from one trial to the next. And it was lowest for unchanged high reward. In a more recent study, participants’ voluntary choice then was between two tasks of unequal difficulty. Some participants actually switched voluntarily to the more difficult task, but only when reward prospect increased (even though the higher reward prospect was not tied to the difficult task). Taken together, the results thus show that any change in reward prospect can promote a change of action while only an increase in reward can selectively motivate the flexible switch to the more difficult of two tasks. Since the former behavior appears less vulnerable to individual differences, it might have evolved as a simple “change behavior when reward levels change”-rule. The latter effect, by contrast, might depend on individual (pre-experimentally learnt) associations between reward prospect and effort expenditure.
Malte Friese, David Loschelder, Karolin Gieseler, Julius Frankenbach, & Michael Inzlicht, Universität des Saarlandes, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Universität des Saarlandes, University of Toronto
Is Ego Depletion Real? An Analysis of Arguments
An influential line of research suggests that exerting self-control increases the susceptibility to self-control failure (ego depletion effect). Despite seemingly abundant evidence, some researchers have suggested that evidence for ego depletion was the sole result of publication bias and p-hacking, with the true effect being indistinguishable from zero. This assumption is largely based on evidence for publication bias evident in meta-analyses, a large-scale registered replication report (RRR) finding a null effect, and further recent failures to replicate the effect. In this talk, we examine (a) whether the evidence brought forward against ego depletion will convince a proponent that ego depletion does not exist, and (b) whether arguments that could be brought forward in defense of ego depletion will convince a skeptic that ego depletion does exist. In particular, we discuss the merits and faults of six arguments that might be used to defend ego depletion: (a) limitations of meta-analyses and the RRR; (b) shortcomings of ego depletion manipulations and dependent variables; (c) moderator and mediator studies; (d) the absence of reverse depletion effects; (e) the size of the hypothetical file drawer; and (f) evidence for ego depletion in everyday life. We conclude that despite several hundred published studies, the available evidence is inconclusive. Both, additional empirical and theoretical work is needed to make a compelling case for either side of the debate. We discuss necessary steps for future work toward this aim.
Neural Correlates of Real-Life Self-Control: Activity in Performance-Monitoring and Cognitive Control Networks Predicts Daily Self-Control Failures
While deficient self-control contributes to a wide range of harmful behaviors incurring severe personal and societal costs, the cognitive mechanisms and neural systems underlying real-life self-control failures (i.e., occasions where an individual fails to resist temptation and enacts a desire that is in conflict with superordinate or long-term personal goals) remain insufficiently understood. In an ongoing large-scale longitudinal study within the frame of the Collaborative Research Center (SFB 940) “Volition and Cognitive Control”, we test a process model, according to which self-control rests on the interaction of performance-monitoring, cognitive control, and valuation networks. More specifically, we assume that deficient self-control does not necessarily reflect impaired cognitive control, but may also result from insufficient error- and conflict-monitoring, leading to a reduced recruitment of control networks in case of conflicts, which in turn leads to an attenuated impact of long-term goals on neural value signals driving behavior. To test this model, we combined behavioural tasks assessing cognitive control abilities, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and smartphone-based experience sampling of daily self-control failures in a sample of 112 young adults. Results showed that individual differences in the proneness to commit daily self-control failures were indeed reliably predicted by reduced error-related brain activation in a performance-monitoring network (comprising the anterior mid-cingulate cortex, preSMA, and anterior insula), as well as low post-error activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus involved in inhibitory control. Moreover, participants with a high proportion of self-control failures showed reduced top-down modulation of value representations by long-term goals. Consistent with these results, further evidence showed that the relation between cognitive control abilities (as derived from latent-variable analyses of performance in our cognitive control task battery) and real-life self-control failures was moderated by the personality trait action vs. state orientation. High performance in the cognitive control battery was related to lower rates of self-control failures in action-oriented participants (who are assumed to respond to conflict with the efficient recruitment of cognitive control). In contrast, the association between control abilities and real-life self-control was reliably reduced in state-oriented individuals, consistent with the assumption that state-oriented individuals fail to mobilize cognitive control under conflict. Taken together, results support our process model of self-control and indicate that deficient real-life self-control emerges from dysfunctional interactions between performance-monitoring, cognitive control, and valuation networks.
On Balancing Labor and Leisure: Testing a Process Model of Perceived Opportunity Costs
Why does performing certain tasks and activities cause the aversive experience of mental effort accompanied by performance reductions and task disengagement? To answer this question, we validated an integrative model of the antecedents and consequences of perceived opportunity costs, i.e., the perceived costs of missing out on a tempting alternative action. Using both an experimental causal chain approach (Studies 1-3) as well as large experience sampling study (Nobs = 9,994), we found that activities that were low in autonomy predicted opportunity costs, and that opportunity costs, in turn, positively predicted feelings of effort and negatively predicted task utility (interest, importance). Mediation analyses supported the process model. Our findings elucidate the important role of opportunity costs in labor/leisure tradeoffs and provide an important conceptual bridge to research on autonomy.
Ego depletion in a replication crisis world: A more nuanced account
The concept of ego depletion is one of the most influential and seemingly well-established phenomena in social psychology, with hundreds of independent demonstrations. However, in the wake of the replication crisis—where both questionable research practices and publication bias have been shown to warp entire literatures—ego depletion has fared poorly, repeatedly failing to replicate when rigorous designs are implemented. Despite these empirical setbacks, many people still cling to the notion that control processes wane over time given everyday experience with fatigue. In this talk, I will detail new empirical studies that offer a more nuanced perspective on depletion. These studies reveal that while cognitive performance reliably declines within any one task, these declines do not always transfer to new tasks. And, among those (few) studies that demonstrate between-task declines, computational modeling suggests that these are characterized by processes consistent with disengagement rather than loss of control. Together, these new studies work against the notion that self-control relies on a central resource and instead are consistent with accounts suggesting self-control is undermined by boredom and under-stimulation.
Antecedents of Lay Beliefs about Willpower: Cultural Context and Autonomy
People who believe that willpower is not limited show higher self-regulation and well-being than people who believe that willpower is a limited resource. So far, only little is known about antecedents of people’s beliefs about willpower. Recently, two lines of research explored factors that might shape people´s willpower beliefs. First, cross-cultural studies suggest that whereas Americans tend to believe that exerting willpower on mental tasks is depleting, Indians tended to believe that exerting willpower is energizing. Moreover, the prevalent belief among Indians, that exerting willpower is energizing, is leading Indians to perform better on a subsequent task requiring cognitive self-control after an initial mentally demanding task. Second, a series of studies examined whether autonomous goal striving promotes the endorsement of a nonlimited belief and whether this relationship is mediated by vitality, the subjective feeling during goal pursuit that energy is available to the self. Longitudinal studies showed that autonomous goal striving predicts a change in willpower beliefs over a time period of four months. In addition, experimental studies indicate that inducing an autonomous mindset enhances people’s endorsement of a nonlimited belief by fostering subjective feelings of vitality. Together the two lines of research suggest that people´s beliefs about willpower are shaped by the cultural context they live in as well as by their recent experiences of vitality caused by autonomous motivation.
Hugo Kehr, Peter Gröpel, Johann Gutzmer, Raphael Müller-Hotop, & Maika Rawolle, Technische Universität München
The 3C-Model of Motivation and its Conception of a Dual Function of Volitional Self-Control
We introduce the 3C-model of motivation (cf., Kehr, Strasser, & Paulus, 2018) which was initially labelled the “compensatory model of work motivation and volition” (Kehr, AMR, 2004). “3C” refers to the three components of motivation that can be illustrated as three partially overlapping circles. On a distal (proximal) level of motivation, these components are implicit motives (affective preferences), explicit motives (cognitive preferences), and subjective abilities (scripted behavioral routines). Volitional self-control compensates for inadequate motivation, and problem solving compensates for inadequate perceived abilities. Based on the 3C-Model, a further distinction can be made between two types of volitional self-control. Type 1 volition is required for tasks that match our cognitive preferences but not our affective preferences. Type 2 volition, on the other hand, is required when affective preferences are aroused (via the activation of implicit motives) although the task at hand might clash with our cognitive preferences. We experience such situations as temptations or fear. Predictions derived from the compensatory model challenge and extend existing conceptions of diverse motivational phenomena: flow experience, implicit/explicit motive discrepancies, the depletion of will-power, the undermining of intrinsic motivation, and the motivating power of visions. According to the compensatory model, implicit/explicit motive discrepancies should result in impaired intrinsic motivation and performance, the depletion of will-power, and increased burnout symptoms. We report several empirical studies that confirm this prediction. Based on these and other findings, the compensatory model has been applied as a reference point for motivation management on different levels of organizations. We briefly report recent initiatives in using these programs.
Motivation and Self-Regulation: Processes Through which Want-to and Have-to Motivation Lead to Goal Attainment
Goals pursued out of interest or personal importance (‘want-to’ goals) are more likely to be attained than externally motivated ‘have-to’ goals. This talk will discuss why that may be the case, focusing on the types of self-regulatory strategies used during goal pursuit. Our recent research finds that want-to goals feel easier to pursue (Werner et al., 2016), and that people report encountering fewer obstacles when pursuing want-to goals (Milyavskaya, Inzlicht, et al., 2015). The literature, however, is currently silent on whether people actually encounter fewer obstacles or whether the self-reported difference is the consequence of subjective perception. And, if they do encounter fewer obstacles, is this the result of enacting effortful strategies or of effortless (habitual) behaviour? I will present recent data from our lab addressing these questions, including online, experience sampling, and in-lab studies on situation selection and other self-regulatory strategies. The results across studies are somewhat inconsistent. For example, in a series of studies, participants reported on their motivation for eating healthy and then responded to a series of online scenarios about positioning obstacles and themselves (relative to obstacles) in their environment. We find that greater want-to motivation is related to greater distancing of obstacles in the hypothetical online scenarios, but not in the in-lab studies. Discussion will focus on our evolving understanding of the effects of motivation on self-regulation, and the outstanding questions that still need to be addressed.
Effective Self-Regulation: Action Orientation, Self-Access and Affective Consonance Production
The possibility to choose goal or task alternatives on the basis of one’s own preferences increases motivation and well-being in private, educational or job-related contexts. Still, individuals differ in the degree to which they are able to access their preferences and other self-referential information or have “self-access”. I will present psychological and neuroscientific studies demonstrating that individuals with high levels of self-regulation abilities, so-called action-oriented individuals, have higher levels of self-access and thus show a reduced tendency to mix up their preferences with other individuals’ expectations (e.g., of a boss). These studies also support the idea that this mechanism of self-congruent goal representation is related to automatic predecisional revaluations of goal alternatives, that is affective consonance production (as opposed to cognitive dissonance reduction). These findings support theories that highlight the importance of the congruence of explicit (deliberate) and implicit (“felt”) self-representations and motives.
Situational Humility and Self-Control
Humility was situationally manipulated through slides shows or videos that illustrated the vastness of the universe in both time and space. Participants who viewed the humility induction videos were later found to be more prosocial (more willing to help in a variety of situations) and less antisocial (less willing to lie, cheat, and steal) than participants who watched a control video or slideshow. Further proposed research and connections to self-control and resisting temptation will be discussed.
Expansive and Contractive Regulatory Scope
Adaptive functioning requires both being able to immerse ourselves in the here and now, with people who are like us and with us, contracting our regulatory scope, and being able to move beyond the local social environment to expand our regulatory scope. In order to effectively pursue desired ends that vary from the immediate to the very distant, humans have evolved a range of mental and social mechanisms to support both contractive and expansive regulatory scope and the ability to switch between them. Across these mechanisms, it is possible to distinguish a hierarchy of levels that vary in level of abstractness from a low-level concrete mode to a high-level abstract mode. The research I’ll describe suggests that low-level modes of operation support contractive regulatory scope, whereas high-level modes of operation support expansive regulatory scope.