Testing the strength model of self-control: Does willpower resemble a muscle?
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AbstractThe strength model of self-control predicts that when people exert self-control, they should show performance decrements on subsequent self-control tasks. However, it is possible that this pattern of behaviour is confined to specific experimental procedures, which amplifies the effect. The aims of this thesis are to; 1) test the strength model predictions in sport; and 2) examine emotion as a mediator of self-control performance effects. Study 1 consisted of two experiments. Experiment 1 set out to demonstrate a pattern of resource depletion. Forty-three sport and exercise students performed either an incongruent (self-control depletion) or congruent (control) Stroop task before and after performing a virtual reality cycling task on an indoor cycling ergometer. Findings showed the depletion group performed worse on the second Stroop task than on their first task or than the control group. Experiment 2 sought to address some of the methodological concerns in Experiment 1, and examine emotion as a factor explaining performance. Forty-eight physically active participants followed the same experimental protocol, but with an additional iteration of both tasks. Results demonstrated that both cycling and Stroop task performance improved across time. In addition, participants reported feeling happier and more motivated during the second cycling task. Study 2 provided a conceptual replication of Study 1, using different tests of self-control. Twenty-six university-level male soccer players either performed the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT) with (self-control depletion) or without (control) an audio file simulating crowd noise, and then performed the wall squat muscle endurance test. The self-control depletion group reported feeling more anxious during the LSPT and performed worse than the controls on the wall squat. III Next, in Study 3, nineteen well-trained competitive endurance runners performed a self-paced 1600 m running trial and then ran a second trial either self-paced or with a pacemaker. The pacemaker had no significant effect on actual performance time but participants reported feeling more anxious beforehand and adopted a fast start strategy, whereas the self-paced group had a conservative pacing pattern. Study 4 showed that, for females, consuming a sports drink—as opposed to plain water—associated with better physical (high-intensity track running) and cognitive self-control (Stroop) performance. In addition, they appeared to be happier drinking water, and more anxious drinking the sports drink—an effect that diverged over the six weeks. Study 5 examined the effects of three strategies—designed to increase or decrease the intensity of emotions—on emotion, pacing strategy and 1600 m performance. Results showed the intervention designed to decrease unpleasant emotions was associated with lower anxiety, higher calmness, a slower first 400 m, and more overall consistent pacing strategy. Study 6 examined the effects of imagery training on swimming tumble-turn performance. Findings showed no significant intervention effect, a result that goes against the proposed benefits of psychological skills training and runs counter to the predictions of the strength model. Collectively, the evidence in the thesis provides limited support for the strength model. It is concluded that self-control performance does not inevitably deteriorate across self-control tasks where the individual is well-versed with the task demands, or where tasks are not physically strenuous enough to tax mental resources. In contrast, the explanation for performance deterioration across a series of novel tasks is likely to extend beyond that of a self-control resources perspective. Future research might profitably test this proposal.
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy