Examining Depletion Theories Under Conditions of Within-Task Transfer

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In everyday life, mental fatigue can be detrimental across many domains including driving, learning, and working. Given the importance of understanding and accounting for the deleterious effects of mental fatigue on behavior, a growing body of literature has studied the role of motivational and executive control processes in mental fatigue. In typical laboratory paradigms, participants complete a task that places demand on these self-control processes and are later given a subsequent task. Generally speaking, decrements to subsequent task performance are taken as evidence that the initial task created mental fatigue through the continued engagement of motivational and executive functions. Several models have been developed to account for negative transfer resulting from this “ego depletion.” In the current study, we provide a brief literature review, specify current theoretical approaches to ego-depletion, and report an empirical test of current models of depletion. Across 4 experiments we found minimal evidence for executive control depletion along with strong evidence for motivation mediated ego depletion.

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