Why self-control seems (but may not be) limited. Academic Article uri icon


  • Self-control refers to the mental processes that allow people to override thoughts and emotions, thus enabling behavior to vary adaptively from moment to moment. Dominating contemporary research on this topic is the viewpoint that self-control relies upon a limited resource, such that engaging in acts of restraint depletes this inner capacity and undermines subsequent attempts at control (i.e., ego depletion). Noting theoretical and empirical problems with this view, here we advance a competing model that develops a non-resource-based account of self-control. We suggest that apparent regulatory failures reflect the motivated switching of task priorities as people strive to strike an optimal balance between engaging cognitive labor to pursue 'have-to' goals versus preferring cognitive leisure in the pursuit of 'want-to' goals.

published proceedings

  • Trends Cogn Sci

altmetric score

  • 169.216

author list (cited authors)

  • Inzlicht, M., Schmeichel, B. J., & Macrae, C. N

citation count

  • 503

complete list of authors

  • Inzlicht, Michael||Schmeichel, Brandon J||Macrae, C Neil

publication date

  • January 2014