Reverse Ego-Depletion: Acts of Self-Control Can Improve Subsequent Performance in Indian Cultural Contexts

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Abstract

The strength model of self-control has been predominantly tested with people from Western cultures. The present research asks whether the phenomenon of ego-depletion generalizes to a culture emphasizing the virtues of exerting mental self-control in everyday life. A pilot study found that whereas Americans tended to believe that exerting willpower on mental tasks is depleting, Indians tended to believe that exerting willpower is energizing. Using dual task ego-depletion paradigms, Studies 1a, 1b, and 1c found reverse ego-depletion among Indian participants, such that participants exhibited better mental self-control on a subsequent task after initially working on strenuous rather than nonstrenuous cognitive tasks. Studies 2 and 3 found that Westerners exhibited the ego-depletion effect whereas Indians exhibited the reverse ego-depletion effect on the same set of tasks. Study 4 documented the causal effect of lay beliefs about whether exerting willpower is depleting versus energizing on reverse ego-depletion with both Indian and Western participants. Together, these studies reveal the underlying basis of the ego-depletion phenomenon in culturally shaped lay theories about willpower.

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