The expense of willpower

The expense of willpower

Last week I came across a very interesting article,┬áinvolving an experiment investigating the link between cognitive processing and willpower. I suppose you could also describe it as ‘the likelihood of rewarding yourself, after your brain has had to work hard’.

The experiment involved 165 grad students. One group were asked to memorise two numbers; a pretty easy task, whereas the other group were asked to memorise seven numbers. After completing the task, the students were then asked to choose a snack of their choice – either a small bowl of fruit or a slice of chocolate cake.

The students who had to memorise seven numbers were over 50% more likely to choose the chocolate cake.

After performing a more difficult task, the level of willpower within the students had decreased, showing that self-control and cognitive tasks drain energy from the same tank.

I’m not saying that this is the sole reason I choose to eat cake about three times a day, but it makes me feel better to think that it probably contributes. I guess it could also show that I work pretty hard?

It’s not just work related though – demolish a level on Candy Crush, then an entire Toberlone. Sounds legit to me! BOOM.

That article also goes on to review dog behaviour, I highly recommend giving it a good read!

  • Phil Barker

    I do this SO MUCH. It drives me mad.

    For me it’s not food – it’s gadgets. I work really hard and when I get paid I have to go out and buy myself something (camera, lens, car parts, anything). I often don’t really need them but after all the hard work I’ve put in I feel like I need a reward.

    If I don’t have the money and can’t buy myself anything I get totally bummed out, lose all my motivation and in some cases in the past have just quit my job.

    The effort -> reward ratio is a huge thing for me and I really wish it wasn’t. I’d be a lot happier if I wasn’t spending so much time trying to find things to buy myself.

  • Spadge

    I’m exactly the same!

    I always used to get dessert as a reward for eating my dinner and I still see dessert as a reward, so even if I’m too full from forcing down all my main course, I’ll still crave the dessert. Then I’ll be so uncomfortable all evening! Sucks!!

    Do you find that sometimes the happiness from the reward is really short lived too? I’ll love having a new gadget (or for me it’s more often a pair of shoes or a syrupy-coffee) and then minutes after buying/drinking it I’ll be like ‘aw it’s over now’ and feel like I’ll need something else to soothe that! Lol. I’m terrible.

  • Phil Barker

    Oh god yes.

    I will have a REALLY stressful and draining month, hit pay day and go “WOOOOO LENS TIME”, spend an entire day working out what lens I want, order it, use it once and put it on a shelf. Then I almost instantly get bummed out that I’ve got to work for another month to buy something else.

    It’s a horrible bi-polar cycle :(