What Is Ego Depletion?

For years, “ego depletion” has been a dominant theory in the study of self control. This is the intuitive idea that self control or willpower is a limited resource, such that the more you use up in one situation, the less you have left over to deploy in another. It makes sense of the everyday experience of when you come home after a hard day at the office, abandon all constructive plans, and instead binge on snacks in front of the TV.

The trouble is, the theory has taken some hard knocks lately, including a failed joint replication attempt by 23 separate labs. Critics have pointed out that most supportive studies – and there are over 200 of them – are small and underpowered. A meta-analysis that corrected for a positive bias in the existing literature concluded that ego depletion is not real. A study in India – where there’s a cultural belief that exercising self-control is energising – even found evidence for “reverse ego depletion“.

It’s not easy to weigh the evidence for and against, but perhaps the science is tipping back in favour of ego depletion. Two new studies, made publicly available on the PsyArXiv preprint website, provide what the researchers at Texas A&M University, led by Katie Garrison, describe as “the strongest evidence yet of the ego depletion effect”.

The studies involved relatively large samples and were preregistered, meaning the methods and hypotheses were made publicly available prior to data collection, a practice that reduces the risk of false-positive or spurious results. To read more from Christian Jarrett, click here.

In my private psychotherapy practice, I specializing in sex addiction therapy. I work with adults in both individual therapy and couples work. I work with a number of sexually addicted/compulsive men and women (gay, bi and straight), and am very familiar with many sexual scenes and behaviors. I work with a non-pathological approach towards sexual behavior. I find it useful to assist people in understanding the forces within that cause them to use sex as a way of coping with difficult emotions, increased stress, and fears or insecurities about their abilities to be emotionally and sexually intimate with others. I have over 16 years of clinical experience. My background and advanced training as a Clinical Psychologist allows me to quickly identify conflicts and set about working deeply with layers of complexity we all face as human beings in sexual bodies in relationship with others and with the world.