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Exploring the Interplay of Trait Self-Control and Ego Depletion: Empirical Evidence for Ironic Effects



Trait self-control (TSC) has been conceptualized as a general and abstract ability to exert self-regulation across multiple domains that has mostly beneficial effects. However, its relationship to situational depletion of self-regulatory resources has received little attention. We systematically explore the interplay of trait and situational self-control in two studies (total N = 264). In contrast with a positive view of TSC, the results show greater ego depletion effects for high (vs. low) self-control abilities across such diverse domains as candy consumption (Study 1), risk-taking behaviour (Study 2) and achievement motivation (Study 2). It is proposed that these ironic effects are attributable to high-TSC individuals' less frequent active inhibition of impulses in everyday life and their resulting lack of experience in resisting acute temptations. A third study (N> = 358) corroborated this general reasoning by showing that TSC is indeed associated with less frequent impulse inhibition in daily routines. Our data point to a downside of dispositional self-control in ego depletion paradigms. Other explanations and potential future avenues for resolving inconsistent findings across the literature are discussed. Copyright © 2013 European Association of Personality Psychology