Kevin Lewis

October 10, 2010

Ego Depletion - Is It All in Your Head? Implicit Theories About Willpower Affect Self-Regulation

Veronika Job, Carol Dweck & Gregory Walton
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Much recent research suggests that willpower - the capacity to exert self-control - is a limited resource that is depleted after exertion. We propose that whether depletion takes place or not depends on a person's belief about whether willpower is a limited resource. Study 1 found that individual differences in lay theories about willpower moderate ego-depletion effects: People who viewed the capacity for self-control as not limited did not show diminished self-control after a depleting experience. Study 2 replicated the effect, manipulating lay theories about willpower. Study 3 addressed questions about the mechanism underlying the effect. Study 4, a longitudinal field study, found that theories about willpower predict change in eating behavior, procrastination, and self-regulated goal striving in depleting circumstances. Taken together, the findings suggest that reduced self-control after a depleting task or during demanding periods may reflect people's beliefs about the availability of willpower rather than true resource depletion.


How leaders self-regulate their task performance: Evidence that power promotes diligence, depletion, and disdain

Nathan DeWall, Roy Baumeister, Nicole Mead & Kathleen Vohs
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

When leaders perform solitary tasks, do they self-regulate to maximize their effort, or do they reduce effort and conserve their resources? Our model suggests that power motivates self-regulation toward effective performance-unless the task is perceived as unworthy of leaders. Our 1st studies showed that power improves self-regulation and performance, even when resources for self-regulation are low (ego depletion). Additional studies showed that leaders sometimes disdain tasks they deem unworthy, by withholding effort (and therefore performing poorly). Ironically, during ego depletion, leaders skip the appraisal and, therefore, work hard regardless of task suitability, so that depleted leaders sometimes outperform nondepleted ones. Our final studies replicated these patterns with different tasks and even with simple manipulation of framing and perception of the same task (Experiment 5). Experiment 4 also showed that the continued high exertion of leaders when depleted takes a heavy toll, resulting in larger impairments later. The judicious expenditure of self-control resources among powerful people may help them prioritize their efforts to pursue their goals effectively.


The Spontaneous Thoughts of the Night: How Future Tasks Breed Intrusive Cognitions

Ezequiel Morsella, Avi Ben-Zeev, Meredith Lanska & John Bargh
Social Cognition, October 2010, Pages 641-650

Everyone has had the experience of trying to clear one's mind before going to sleep, only to have intrusive cognitions about future tasks (e.g., giving a speech, solving a financial conundrum) perturb consciousness. Similar cognitions can interfere with other goals (e.g., to concentrate while driving). We propose that intrusive cognitions are far from indeterminate and reflect the ‘prospective' nature of the brain. We hypothesize that they are triggered automatically by future tasks that may benefit from forethought. Accordingly, during a meditation-like exercise requiring one to clear the mind of excess thought and focus on just one thing (breathing), participants reported more intrusive cognitions about a future task that could benefit from forethought than when they anticipated no future task or anticipated a task that, though of comparable difficulty and content, could not benefit from forethought. This finding illuminates conditions such as rumination and the prospective nature of the brain.


Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech Is More Distracting

Lauren Emberson, Gary Lupyan, Michael Goldstein & Michael Spivey
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Why are people more irritated by nearby cell-phone conversations than by conversations between two people who are physically present? Overhearing someone on a cell phone means hearing only half of a conversation-a "halfalogue." We show that merely overhearing a halfalogue results in decreased performance on cognitive tasks designed to reflect the attentional demands of daily activities. By contrast, overhearing both sides of a cell-phone conversation or a monologue does not result in decreased performance. This may be because the content of a halfalogue is less predictable than both sides of a conversation. In a second experiment, we controlled for differences in acoustic factors between these types of overheard speech, establishing that it is the unpredictable informational content of halfalogues that results in distraction. Thus, we provide a cognitive explanation for why overheard cell-phone conversations are especially irritating: Less-predictable speech results in more distraction for a listener engaged in other tasks.


Age-related IQ decline is reduced markedly after adjustment for the Flynn effect

Mercedes Dickinson & Merrill Hiscock
Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, October 2010, Pages 865-870

Twenty-year-olds outperform 70-year-olds by as much as 2.3 standard deviations (35 IQ points) on subtests of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). We show that most of the difference can be attributed to an intergenerational rise in IQ known as the Flynn effect. Normative data from different versions of the WAIS enabled us to estimate the degree to which the Flynn effect, rather than age-related decline, contributes to differences between 20- and 70-year-olds. The Flynn effect accounted for 38-67% of the apparent age-related decline on 6 of the 11 subtests. On the other 5 subtests, all of which are categorized as verbal, the Flynn effect was larger than the age-group difference. For these verbal subtests, the Flynn effect masked a modest increase in ability as individuals grow older. Overall, the Flynn effect accounted for at least 85% of the disparity between 20- and 70-year-olds.


The Association Between Parenting and Levels of Self-Control: A Genetically Informative Analysis

Kevin Beaver, Christopher Ferguson & Jennifer Lynn-Whaley
Criminal Justice and Behavior, October 2010, Pages 1045-1065

A growing body of criminological research has tested Gottfredson and Hirschi's parental management thesis that highlights the causal role that parents play in shaping their child's level of self-control. Although the results of these studies appear to provide support for the parental management thesis, in general, they all fail to adequately control for genetic factors and child-driven effects, which may result in biased findings. The current study addresses these limitations by analyzing a sample of twin pairs drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Following quantitative genetic analysis, the results revealed that after taking into account genetic factors and child-driven effects, none of the covariance between parental management techniques and levels of low self-control was explained by parental socialization. The importance of these findings for criminological research examining the influence of parents on self-control specifically and antisocial behaviors generally is discussed.


A Spontaneous Self-Reference Effect in Memory: Why Some Birthdays Are Harder to Remember Than Others

Selin Kesebir & Shigehiro Oishi
Psychological Science, forthcoming

The self-reference effect in memory is defined as the memory advantage for materials that have been processed in relation to the self. Existing demonstrations of the self-reference effect rely on laboratory stimuli and use explicit cues to prompt self-relevant encoding. In three studies, we used participants' memories for birthdays to document a naturalistic case of the self-reference effect that did not depend on explicit self-cues. In Study 1, the birthdays that participants free-recalled were closer on average to their own birthday than would be expected by chance. In Study 2, participants were more likely to remember the birthday of a friend if the friend's birthday was close to their own, and they were more likely to forget the friend's birthday if it was distant. In Study 3, we demonstrated experimentally that the self-reference effect occurs for newly introduced individuals. Our findings suggest that the self-reference effect can occur spontaneously in the absence of explicit self-cues if the material to be learned automatically activates self-relevant information.


Naive theories of intelligence and the role of processing fluency in perceived comprehension

David Miele & Daniel Molden
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, August 2010, Pages 535-557

Previous research overwhelmingly suggests that feelings of ease people experience while processing information lead them to infer that their comprehension is high, whereas feelings of difficulty lead them to infer that their comprehension is low. However, the inferences people draw from their experiences of processing fluency should also vary in accordance with their naive theories about why new information might be easy or difficult to process. Five experiments that involved reading novel texts showed that participants who view intelligence as a fixed attribute, and who tend to interpret experiences of processing difficulty as an indication that they are reaching the limits of their ability, reported lower levels of comprehension as fluency decreased. In contrast, participants who view intelligence as a malleable attribute that develops through effort, and who do not tend to interpret experiences of processing difficulty as pertaining to some innate ability, did not report lower levels of comprehension as fluency decreased. In fact, when these participants were particularly likely to view effort as leading to increased mastery, decreases in fluency led them to report higher levels of comprehension.


‘Willpower' over the life span: Decomposing self-regulation

Walter Mischel et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming

In the 1960s, Mischel and colleagues developed a simple ‘marshmallow test' to measure preschoolers' ability to delay gratification. In numerous follow-up studies over 40 years, this ‘test' proved to have surprisingly significant predictive validity for consequential social, cognitive and mental health outcomes over the life course. In this article, we review key findings from the longitudinal work and from earlier delay-of-gratification experiments examining the cognitive appraisal and attention control strategies that underlie this ability. Further, we outline a set of hypotheses that emerge from the intersection of these findings with research on ‘cognitive control' mechanisms and their neural bases. We discuss implications of these hypotheses for decomposing the phenomena of ‘willpower' and the lifelong individual differences in self-regulatory ability that were identified in the earlier research and that are currently being pursued.


Gesture Changes Thought by Grounding It in Action

S.L. Beilock & S. Goldin-Meadow
Psychological Science, forthcoming

When people talk, they gesture. We show that gesture introduces action information into speakers' mental representations, which, in turn, affect subsequent performance. In Experiment 1, participants solved the Tower of Hanoi task (TOH1), explained (with gesture) how they solved it, and solved it again (TOH2). For all participants, the smallest disk in TOH1 was the lightest and could be lifted with one hand. For some participants (no-switch group), the disks in TOH2 were identical to those in TOH1. For others (switch group), the disk weights in TOH2 were reversed (so that the smallest disk was the heaviest and could not be lifted with one hand). The more the switch group's gestures depicted moving the smallest disk one-handed, the worse they performed on TOH2. This was not true for the no-switch group, nor for the switch group in Experiment 2, who skipped the explanation step and did not gesture. Gesturing grounds people's mental representations in action. When gestures are no longer compatible with the action constraints of a task, problem solving suffers.


Bending It Like Beckham: How to Visually Fool the Goalkeeper

Joost Dessing & Cathy Craig
PLoS ONE, October 2010, e13161

Background: As bending free-kicks becomes the norm in modern day soccer, implications for goalkeepers have largely been ignored. Although it has been reported that poor sensitivity to visual acceleration makes it harder for expert goalkeepers to perceptually judge where the curved free-kicks will cross the goal line, it is unknown how this affects the goalkeeper's actual movements.

Methodology/Principal Findings: Here, an in-depth analysis of goalkeepers' hand movements in immersive, interactive virtual reality shows that they do not fully account for spin-induced lateral ball acceleration. Hand movements were found to be biased in the direction of initial ball heading, and for curved free-kicks this resulted in biases in a direction opposite to those necessary to save the free-kick. These movement errors result in less time to cover a now greater distance to stop the ball entering the goal. These and other details of the interceptive behaviour are explained using a simple mathematical model which shows how the goalkeeper controls his movements online with respect to the ball's current heading direction. Furthermore our results and model suggest how visual landmarks, such as the goalposts in this instance, may constrain the extent of the movement biases.

Conclusions: While it has previously been shown that humans can internalize the effects of gravitational acceleration, these results show that it is much more difficult for goalkeepers to account for spin-induced visual acceleration, which varies from situation to situation. The limited sensitivity of the human visual system for detecting acceleration, suggests that curved free-kicks are an important goal-scoring opportunity in the game of soccer.


Use it or lose it? Wii brain exercise practice and reading for domain knowledge

Phillip Ackerman, Ruth Kanfer & Charles Calderwood
Psychology and Aging, forthcoming

We investigated the training effects and transfer effects associated with 2 approaches to cognitive activities (so-called brain training) that might mitigate age-related cognitive decline. A sample of 78 adults between the ages of 50 and 71 completed 20 one-hr training sessions with the Nintendo Wii Big Brain Academy software over the course of 1 month and, in a second month, completed 20 one-hr reading sessions with articles on 4 different current topics (order of assignment was counterbalanced for the participants). An extensive battery of cognitive and perceptual speed ability measures was administered before and after each month of cognitive training activities, along with a battery of domain-knowledge tests. Results indicated substantial improvements on the Wii tasks, somewhat less improvement on the domain knowledge tests, and practice-related improvements on 6 of the 10 ability tests. However, there was no significant transfer of training from either the Wii practice or the reading tasks to measures of cognitive and perceptual speed abilities. Implications for these findings are discussed in terms of adult intellectual development and maintenance.


Self-reported Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms Among College Students

Laura Garnier-Dykstra, Gillian Pinchevsky, Kimberly Caldeira, Kathryn Vincent & Amelia Arria
Journal of American College Health, September-October 2010, Pages 133-136

Objective: Report the distribution of scores from the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale (ASRS) and estimate the prevalence of self-reported attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms as compared to clinical diagnoses.

Participants: Participants were 1,080 college students, divided into 3 groups: (1) no ADHD diagnosis (n = 972), (2) diagnosed with ADHD but no current pharmacologic treatment (n = 54), and (3) diagnosed with ADHD with current pharmacologic treatment (n = 54).

Methods: The ASRS was administered during the fourth annual interview of an ongoing longitudinal cohort study.

Results: As expected, individuals who were never clinically diagnosed with ADHD had lower ASRS scores (M = 4.0, SD = 3.3) than individuals diagnosed with ADHD who were either under current pharmacologic treatment (M = 7.9, SD = 4.0) or not under treatment (M = 6.3, SD = 3.7). Overall, 10.3%wt of individuals without an existing clinical diagnosis of ADHD had high levels of ADHD symptoms.

Conclusions: A substantial minority of undiagnosed individuals may benefit from a clinical assessment for ADHD.


Association between sleep duration and intelligence scores in healthy children

Anja Geiger, Peter Achermann & Oskar Jenni
Developmental Psychology, July 2010, Pages 949-954

We examined the association between sleep behavior and cognitive functioning in 60 healthy children between 7 and 11 years of age under nonexperimental conditions. Intellectual abilities were assessed by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (4th edition) and sleep variables by questionnaires, actigraphy, and sleep diaries. Correlation analysis revealed a negative association between sleep duration on weekends and measures of intelligence (full-scale IQ, r = -.29; fluid IQ, r = -.36). The regression coefficient for sleep duration on weekends was -6.11 (SE = 2.09), indicating an increase of 6.11 points on fluid IQ scores for each hour of shorter sleep duration. Attention measures did not correlate with cognitive or sleep variables. Daytime sleepiness as a potential moderator of the relationship between sleep duration and cognitive performance was not related to cognitive or sleep variables. We conclude that children with higher daytime cognitive efficiency (reflected by higher intelligence scores) show increased nighttime efficiency (reflected by shorter sleep duration). In the light of the neural efficiency hypothesis, the current results argue for an extension of the original theory-referring not only to daytime but also to nighttime behavior.


Prenatal undernutrition and cognitive function in late adulthood

Susanne de Rooij, Hans Wouters, Julie Yonker, Rebecca Painter & Tessa Roseboom
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 28 September 2010, Pages 16881-16886

At the end of World War II, a severe 5-mo famine struck the cities in the western part of The Netherlands. At its peak, the rations dropped to as low as 400 calories per day. In 1972, cognitive performance in 19-y-old male conscripts was reported not to have been affected by exposure to the famine before birth. In the present study, we show that cognitive function in later life does seem affected by prenatal undernutrition. We found that at age 56 to 59, men and women exposed to famine during the early stage of gestation performed worse on a selective attention task, a cognitive ability that usually declines with increasing age. We hypothesize that this decline may be an early manifestation of an accelerated cognitive aging process.


Cognitive ability in early adulthood is associated with systemic inflammation in middle age: The Vietnam Experience Study

Anna Phillips, David Batty, Jet Veldhuijzen van Zanten, Laust Mortensen, Ian Deary, Catherine Calvin & Douglas Carroll
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, forthcoming

We examined the prospective association between cognitive ability in early adulthood and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, a marker of inflammation, in middle age. Participants were 4256 male Vietnam era US veterans. Data on cognitive ability, assessed by the Army General Technical Test, ethnicity, and place of service were extracted from enlistment files. Smoking behaviour, alcohol consumption, basic socio-demographics, and whether participants suffered from a physician diagnosed chronic disease were determined by telephone interview in middle-age in 1985. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate, cholesterol, blood pressure, height, and weight were measured at a 3-day medical examination in 1986. In linear regression models that adjusted for age and then additionally for circumstantial, socio-demographic, lifestyle, and health factors, poor cognitive ability in early adulthood was associated with greater erythrocyte sedimentation rate in middle age, β = -.09. Thus, it would appear that not only does systemic inflammation influence cognition, but also that poor cognitive ability earlier in life is associated with inflammation in middle-age.


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