“Pay the piper”: It helps initially, but motivation takes a toll on self-control

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Objective:To investigate the aftereffects of anticipating future self-control and motivation on self-control strength depletion patterns.Design:Single blind, randomized 2 (autonomy-supportive motivation/controlling motivation) × 2 (anticipation/no anticipation) factorial.Method:Participants (N = 72) performed four sequential self-control strength challenges: an initial endurance handgrip squeeze followed by the Stroop task and two additional endurance handgrip squeezes. A sequential randomization procedure was used to allocate participants to one of four conditions: anticipation/autonomy-supportive motivation (n = 19), anticipation/controlling motivation (n = 17), no anticipation/autonomy-supportive motivation (n = 18), and no anticipation/controlling motivation (n = 18).Results:Participants who anticipated future self-control depletion conserved resources on the second task by completing fewer words on a Stroop task compared to controls. Participants who received autonomy-supportive instructions performed significantly better than controls on a third task (endurance handgrip squeeze), but worse than controls on the fourth task (another endurance handgrip squeeze). There were no significant interactions between anticipation and motivation (p > .05).Conclusions:Results support previous findings reflecting conservation and motivation effects on self-control strength. This was the first study to show that autonomy-supportive instructions may assist self-control performance in the short term but ultimately depletes self-control strength and impairs performance in the long term.

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