Overcoming ego depletion: the influence of exemplar priming on self-control performance



Self-regulation research suggested that active self-control depends on a limited resource. Therefore the capacity for self-control is lower among people who already exercised control, a phenomenon labelled as ego depletion. This experiment examines whether priming of a persistent person exemplar may help to overcome ego depletion. Half of the participants engaged in a demanding self-control task (solving extremely difficult labyrinths) whereas the other half took part in a task that demanded little self-control (solving easy labyrinths). Then, half of the participants received a person exemplar prime related to persistence; the other half received a neutral prime. Finally, participants' persistence on a subsequent self-control task (squeezing a handgrip) was measured. The effect of a person exemplar prime on a subsequent self-control task depended on initial self-control demands. Participants who exercised high initial self-control and were then presented with a persistent exemplar prime showed assimilation. Their handgrip persistence was higher than the persistence of participants who received a neutral prime. Under conditions of low initial self-control the opposite pattern was found. A persistent person prime resulted in contrast and resulted in lower handgrip performance as compared to those who received a neutral prime. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.