Nav: Home

Key to willpower lies in believing you have it in abundance

January 18, 2018

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Americans believe they have less stamina for strenuous mental activity than their European counterparts - an indication that people in the U.S. perceive their willpower or self-control as being in limited supply, a new study suggests.

More than 1,100 Americans and 1,600 Europeans - including 775 Swiss and 871 German-speaking adults - participated in the study, which tested the validity of a widely used psychological assessment tool called the Implicit Theory of Willpower for Strenuous Mental Activities Scale.

People taking the assessment are asked to rate their level of agreement with statements such as, "After a strenuous mental activity, your energy is depleted, and you must rest to get it refueled again."

Americans in the study were more likely to indicate that they needed breaks to rest and recover after performing mentally taxing activities, while their European counterparts reported feeling more invigorated and ready to jump into the next challenging task immediately.

"What matters most is what we think about our willpower," said the study's lead author, University of Illinois educational psychology professor Christopher Napolitano. "When we view our willpower as limited, it's similar to a muscle that gets tired and needs rest. If we believe it is a finite resource, we act that way, feeling exhausted and needing breaks between demanding mental tasks, while people who view their willpower as a limitless resource get energized instead."

Napolitano and co-author Veronika Job of the University of Zurich sought to test whether the ITW-M measured the concept of willpower consistently across sexes and different cultures. Participants' scores on the ITW-M questionnaire were compared with their scores on similar assessments that explored their beliefs about intelligence, life satisfaction and trait self-control, which relates to their ability to rein in their impulses.

The data indicated that the ITW-M had strong invariance between men and women. The instrument was slightly less consistent across cultures, demonstrating some variance in one of the seven U.S. samples and in one of the five samples of Europeans, the researchers found.

However, the researchers hypothesized that an imprecise translation of the word "energized" may have skewed some of the Swiss and German participants' interpretation of one question.

Why do some people seem locked in a lifelong battle for self-control while others are so self-disciplined - impervious to overeating, overspending or binge-watching TV shows when they feel pressured?

The secret to having ironclad willpower lies in believing that you have an unlimited supply of it, Napolitano said.

"Your feelings about your willpower affect the way you behave - but these feelings are changeable," Napolitano said. "Changing your beliefs about the nature of your self-control can have positive effects on development, leading to healthier behaviors and perceptions of others."
-end-
The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Willpower Articles:

Why are we so drawn to places of happy memories?
Why are we so drawn to places of happy memories?
Criteria for bariatric surgery should consider more than just patient's weight
More than one-third of Americans are obese, and while more than 250,000 bariatric surgeries are performed annually in the United States, experts at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and 45 worldwide scientific and medical societies say surgery should be an option for many more patients.
Effective self-control strategies involve much more than willpower, research shows
It's mid-February, around the time that most people waver in their commitment to the resolutions they've made for the new year.
Slim people have a genetic advantage when it comes to maintaining their weight
In the largest study of its kind to date, Cambridge researchers have looked at why some people manage to stay thin while others gain weight easily.
Routine, coordinated treatment of opioid abuse can stem national epidemic
To help stem the nationwide opioid epidemic and related increases in HIV, hepatitis C and other infections, health care providers should routinely screen and treat patients for opioid abuse when they come to clinics and hospitals seeking other services.
Infantilism as a norm
Views on human age need to be revisited. The value of adulthood as a period of certainty has declined for many, which means that this period is being delayed.
More Americans aware of growing problem of opioid addiction
A new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reveals the number of Americans who see opioid addiction as a significant issue for their community today is up significantly over just two years ago.
Chimpanzee self-control is related to intelligence, Georgia State study finds
As is true in humans, chimpanzees' general intelligence is correlated to their ability to exert self-control and delay gratification, according to new research at Georgia State University.
Key to willpower lies in believing you have it in abundance
Americans believe they have less stamina for strenuous mental activity than their European counterparts -- an indication that people in the US perceive their willpower or self-control as being in limited supply, suggests a study by University of Illinois educational psychologist Christopher Napolitano.
Your hands may reveal the struggle to maintain self-control
It takes just a few seconds to choose a cookie over an apple and wreck your diet for the day.
More Willpower News and Willpower Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.