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Break out the marshmallows, friends: Ego depletion is due to change sign!

In a paper amusingly titled, “Ego depletion may disappear by 2020,” Miguel Vadillo (link from Kevin Lewis) writes:

Ego depletion has been successfully replicated in hundreds of studies. Yet the most recent large-scale Registered Replication Reports (RRR), comprising thousands of participants, have yielded disappointingly small effects, sometimes even failing to reach statistical significance. Although these results may seem surprising, in the present article I suggest that they are perfectly consistent with a long-term decline in the size of the depletion effects that can be traced back to at least 10 years ago, well before any of the RRR on ego depletion were conceived. The decline seems to be at least partly due to a parallel trend toward publishing better and less biased research.

But I think Vadillo is totally missing the big story, which is that if you take this trend seriously—and you certainly should—then ego depletion is not just disappearing. It’s changing sign. By 2025 or so, the sign of ego depletion should be clearly negative.

And by around the turn of the next century, ego depletion will be the largest effect known to psychology. Step aside, Stroop, and make room for the new boss on the block.


  1. This means, presumably after about Jan 1st 2025 utilizing willpower will increase the available resources to utilize in willpower tasks. This in turn will require us to hold back from utilizing our willpower in order to prevent exponential amplification in a loop… However, holding back from utilizing willpower itself requires willpower, leading to actually super-exponential ego growth. Shortly after midnight Jan 1 2025 all humans will vanish in a blinding flash of pure ego.

    The only survivors will be those people who have exactly zero ego at that exact moment. South Dakota is preparing for this eventuality by their launch of their new PSA encouraging people to destroy their egos through Methamphetamine use:

  2. David J. Littleboy says:

    Although not as singularity-inducing as this change in sign, another possible change in sign is the positive association between grip strength and life expectancy. Half of us wimps are frantically strengthening our grips in the hopes of living longer and the other half of us wimps are frantically strengthening our grips in the hopes of avoiding being targeted by our employer’s health management department…

    Pretty soon you’ll be able to recognize wimps by the size of their forearms…

    • Andrew says:


      Grip strength, huh? Scott Adams is on the case. And to connect with another recent thread Alexey Guzey reports that one of his biggest intellectual influences is . . . Scott Adams!

      This whole thing is like a wacky Rubik’s Cube of influences and of course will all blow up on that magic singularity day in 2025.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      As a CDHP (congenitally dinky-handed person), I now have one more thing to worry about!

      • David J. Littleboy says:

        Ah, but that’s the kewl thing about science: it’s always making wonderful improvements on things (as was pointed out in The Importance of Being Ernest, 125 or so years ago).

        The latest thing is that someone put recording accelerometers on a fairly large number of people’s belts and found that (as we already knew) how much you move predicts health. But the fine print is that moving between noon and two in the afternoon is the most important, and that’s my nap time.

        • Martha (Smith) says:

          Darn! My preferred nap time is within that interval, too.
          (However, my usual two days a week a.m. barre fitness class and three days a week p.m. workout at the gym probably more than compensate for the inefficient choice of nap time. And then there’s yard work.)

  3. zbicyclist says:

    I don’t know about ego depletion, but after spending hours yesterday watching Sondland’s testimony, I saw that the Democrats were having another debate. I had politics depletion, and skipped the debate.

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