Willpower more plentiful than you may think: study
A new Stanford University study finds that willpower may be limitless, as long as you believe it is. (Yeko Photo Studio / shutterstock.com)
Published Saturday, August 24, 2013 4:55PM EDT
Do you think that you have a short supply of willpower? A new study finds that willpower is abundant, as long as you believe it to be true.
Researchers from Stanford University in the U.S. found that people who believe that willpower is limited tend to need a sugary boost to keep working on a hard task, while those who believe willpower is limitless don't. But people can change their behaviors by altering their beliefs about willpower, Livescience reports.
The report adds that prior research has suggested that willpower drains energy and depletes the brain's glucose supply, but that a sugary boost could replenish our willpower to continue working at a difficult task.
In the new study, coauthor Carol Dweck, a psychologist at the university, and her team enlisted 87 college students in Germany, Switzerland, and the US to describe their beliefs about willpower. Then they asked the subjects to complete a mentally challenging task, followed by a second task that required subjects to resist an impulse, such as reading the name of a color written in a different color ink, LiveScience explains.
Students who believed willpower was limited became tired after the first task and didn't perform well on the second. However, if they received a sugary drink after the first task, their second performance improved. Those who believed that willpower was limitless and abundant didn't tire during either task and received no added benefit from the sugar.
"We believe that people who believe willpower is limited are always looking for cues about their resources - 'Am I tired? Am I hungry? Do I need a boost?' - and feel that they can't work unless they're constantly replenished," Dweck told LiveScience.
Prior research has shown that willpower can be depleted because most people in society tend to believe willpower is a limited resource, Dweck added.
Findings were published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.