Willpower part 1
Radishes and Cookies
In an interesting and particularly cruel experiment in 1996, a group of college students walked into Roy Baumeister laboratory to participate in a study that was designed to test willpower. As a requirement for the experiment, the students were asked not to eat for at least twelve hours prior. When the ravenous students walked through the door at the test time, all they could smell was the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The setup was simple, there were two arrangements of food presented to all of the students and each group was assigned to eat one while ignoring the other. Half of the group was instructed to only eat from an arrangement of fresh cookies, and the other group was instructed to only eat from an arrangement of beautiful radishes. Needless to say, the students instructed to ignore the radishes had no problem, but those poor radish eaters, struggled a bit more. Nonetheless, both groups managed to succeeded in their task while the sadistic scientists, watched from behind the double-sided mirror. Now that the groundwork was set, the real test was about to begin.
The process that was described in the above paragraph was set up that way because the real questions that researchers wanted to know was if the amount of restraint that we could demonstrate, was limited; not on whether or not people enjoy radishes or cookies more. The principle behind the test was to see whether or not restraining them from eating the cookies (which was assumed to be difficult,) would lower the amount of willpower the individual would have while doing a later task. If it did, then that would suggest that the strength of someone’s will could vary, depending on the amount of times they had previously exercised it earlier in the day. The plate of cookies served as a control because it was agreed among the researchers that eating them did not demonstrate self-control.
When the real test began, both groups of students were asked to begin tracing a geometric shape, without picking up their pencil and without crossing the same line twice. The students had no idea that this was an impossible task, but the real goal was to see whether or not there was any difference in how long either group was willing to spend on this project before giving up. The times between the two groups were staggering. The group that were forced to eat only the radishes and resist the cookies gave up after about 8 minutes. The little cookie monsters on the other hand, were comfortably able to work on the puzzle for close to 20 minutes when the researchers decided to stop the experiment. The results were conclusive. When the participants restrained the urge to eat the desirable sweets, their ability to push forward on the task presented to them afterward, lowered.
This experiment has been repeated several times and has been designed several ways to further understand this concept. Participants sometimes were asked to watch a particularly humorous or horrific movie and were asked to suppress their emotions by not reacting while watching it. Sometimes, people were asked to go through a list and make decisions on which items were more desirable, or to prioritize them. In either case, the results were the same. Whenever someone had to suppress an emotion, do something daunting, or resist an urge, it made them more vulnerable to future temptations, or caused them to give up earlier on difficult tasks. Not only did the tests prove that willpower depletes throughout the day, but also demonstrated that people who were depleted, would act more emotionally towards events that were presented to them. They found funny things funnier and sad things even more so, than they would if they were in full capacity.
People who had just got out of a bad drug addiction, also showed similar symptoms of depletion due to the immense amount of willpower they had to use to overcome the feeling of a relapse. In these states of mind, it's important to remember to not take on too many responsibilities because, physically, it might be impossible to interpret the situation accordingly. In fact, in a completely different study, it was observed that whether or not you go to jail during a court case, might depend on whether or not the judge has had lunch yet. They found that in the beginning of the day, the chances that a person would get a fair trial would be roughly 65% in the morning, but as the judge becomes fatigued and drained of their willpower, that number finds its way down to 0% by lunch. Once however, after lunch is served, so are fair hearings again, reaching back up to 65%. The end of the day? Yep, you guessed it, back to zero. If judges are this affected by depletion when people’s futures are on the line, imagine how it affects the average person whose decisions aren’t as dramatic.