Surprising Facts About Willpower and Self-Control


Unknown-11In 1996, psychologist Roy Baumeister, Ph.D. conducted a cruel experiment. With some of his former Case Western Reserve University colleagues, he studied the effect of tempting participants with scrumptious treats in order to see how much willpower human beings actually have.

He kept the 67 participants in a room that smelled like freshly baked chocolate cookies, then showed them the cookies and other chocolate bonbons. Some got to indulge, and others were asked to eat radishes instead. After this torture, the team assigned the participants a difficult geometric puzzle. As you might imagine, the folks who got stuck eating the radishes did far worse on the puzzle than the ones who got to indulge in the treats.

Two years later, Baumeister published the study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the concept was born that our willpower is finite. The unlucky peeps who were forced to eat veggies simply no longer had the will to engage in another task that tapped their resolve. They were too tired and probably ticked off to work on any puzzle.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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7 Responses
  1. mary yo

    will power to resist food is very different of will power to exercise for your mental health, that study was flawed. will power is not finite, it can be infinite if the cause is worthit

    1. Therese Borchard

      I do agree they are very different. But I still can’t do everything right all the time. Maybe other people can!

  2. DM

    “When people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted.” Hmm. I wonder if most people go around thinking that. Somehow, I don’t think so. At least, not from what I’ve seen and experienced in life – for myself and others.

    I really like this post. I’ve reread it a few times and plan on bringing it into my therapy session. It helps uncover some things in regards to my PTSD and subsequent depression.

    I’m with Dr. Roy Baumeister too.

    Thanks for sharing this, Therese.


  3. DM

    There’s actually more to the study by Dr. Baumeister, including a follow-up study a few years later. I wouldn’t necessarily dismiss it yet as being flawed, but perhaps look at the studies, including those that dismiss Dr. Minister’s, to get a well-rounded view. Well, at least as well-rounded as possible. In any case, very interesting subject.

    I personally resonate more with Dr. Baumeister, but that’s just me and my personal experience. I do understand, though, that we humans are complex, and personally believe no one particular study will ever capture our unique complexities. Dr. B’s study just happens to shed some really good light on an area of my mental health that is enlightening to me at present. And I’m very grateful for that.


    1. DM

      Oops, my flipping device changed Dr. Baumeister’s name to Dr. Minister’s EVEN after I spell-checked. Sorry. LOL.