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New research on "Ego Depletion"

An article by Kirsten Weir in the January issue of the Monitor on Psychology reviews some interesting research about self-control.  Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at FloridaStateUniversity, has reviewed a body of research suggesting that willpower and decision-making are both finite resources that get used up over the course of a day.   Dr. Baumeister refers to this process as “ego depletion.”  To describe this process, Baumeister explains, “A dieter may easily avoid a doughnut for breakfast, but after a long day of making difficult decisions at work, he has a much harder time resisting that piece of cake for dessert.”  Baumeister then goes on to explain how this same process might apply to losing your temper, “maybe you’re trying to meet a stressful work deadline—and the person says precisely the wrong thing, you erupt and say the words you would have stifled if your self control-strength was at full capacity.”

This article explains that the average person spends 3-4 hours a day resisting desires—what a lot of effort! The article also explains that self-control is involved in other processes like controlling thoughts and feelings and regulating performance on tasks. Interestingly, Baumeister and a former student, Dr. Gaillliot, have found that glucose plays an important role in the process of ego depletion.  They describe that glucose is basically brain fuel.  Lower levels of glucose predict poor performance on self-control tasks.  Upping glucose, by drinking even one glass of lemonade, can improve self-control on certain tasks.

So, what are the implications of these findings for the kids and families we work with at Think:Kids?  Imagine what it must feel like for kids who are already dealing with skills challenges in the area of emotion regulation and executive functioning to go through a day where those with “average” skills on board spend 3-4 hours a day resisting challenges!  Interestingly, the article references another piece of research by Dr. Vohs, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, that has clear implications for our families.  This research indicates that people who experience ego depletion experience stronger reactions to pleasant and unpleasant things.  “Depletion  . . .seems to be like turning up the volume on your life as a whole.”

This area of research provides us with a lens through which to understand experientially what certain skills challenges can feel like for the kids we work with at Think:Kids!