Investigating the effects of ego depletion on physical exercise routines of athletes

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Abstract

Objectives:

Persisting at a task can temporarily reduce one’s ability to persist at subsequent tasks. This phenomenon is known as “ego depletion”. Although ego depletion has been linked to many cognitive tasks less is known about its effect on physical tasks. Even less is known about its effect on practiced physical performance associated with athletes. In modern sport science, the question as to whether or not ego depletion can reduce athletes’ persistence at practiced behaviour should be particularly important. Two experimental studies investigated if ego depletion can reduce athletes’ persistence at a routine physical exercise.

Design:

In both experiments, a repeated measures design was employed.

Method:

Competitive rowers (Experiment 1) and competitive hockey and rugby players (Experiment 2) attempted to complete as many press-ups (Experiment 1) or sit-ups (Experiment 2) as possible over two separate phases. In one phase, the participants attempted the physical exercise after completing an easy cognitive task. In the other phase, they attempted the physical exercise after completing a difficult cognitive task.

Results:

Experiment 1 demonstrated that the competitive rowers completed fewer press-ups after completing a difficult cognitive task than they did after completing an easy task. Experiment 2 demonstrated that the competitive hockey and rugby players completed fewer sit-ups after completing a difficult cognitive task than they did after completing an easy cognitive task.

Conclusions:

These findings indicate that athletes’ exercise routines are susceptible to ego depletion and that the strength model of self-regulation is applicable to athletic performance.

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