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I am amazed at the human brain and consequently its pyschology. While there are so many behaviors we can intuitively understand, there are many which we have no clue about. Experiments conducted to understand the human psyche are fascinating and theories are surprising. In this list, I am trying to collect specifics of some of the interesting studies I have come across. In recent years, many researchers have failed to reproduce the experimental results from some of these famous studies, casting doubts on the validity of these observations. Nevertheless, it is still useful to study the evolving truth about humans and their tendencies, however inaccurate or incomplete it might be at this time.

20 years ago, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice at the Case Western Reserve demonstrated that willpower or self-control is a limited resource, in a paper that has been cited more than 3000 times. Study participants were split into two groups. Those that could eat red radishes and those that could eat chocolate chip cookies, unattended, while they waited to be presented with an unsolvable puzzle. The radish munchers gave up easily when posed with the puzzle, in about 8 minutes. The cookie crunchers persevered for 19 minutes on average. The scientists described this effect as ego depletion. Making a healthy choice, such as eating a radish in the presence of unhealthy but tasty snacks such as cookies is an act of self-denial, which drains mental energy and exercises the willpower to exhaustion.

In subsequent studies, scientists observed that a lot of tasks could lead to willpower depletion. For example, having to make choices or shopping, especially if you are poor and financially conscious of the impact of your choices. Ego-depletion has also been associated with decreased pro-social behavior due the decreased ability to experience guilt.

Recommendation to counter the effects of ego-depletion are many: lemonade effect remedy, an idea that a small cup of sugary lemon water could replenish the reserves of willpower. Inducing positive mood, through the watching of comedy videos or getting surprise gifts can lift self-esteem and can overcome ego-depletion. Instilling the belief that an individual has unlimited willpower can also lead them to maintain self-control longer.

Nevertheless, recent replication efforts have cast doubts on the idea of ego-depletion and we are likely going back to square one.

Do you know any other psychological theories and experiments?

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