Martin Hagger on the Ego-Depletion Effect

The article “A Multilab Preregistered Replication of the Ego-Depletion Effect” (Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 11 [4] 546-573. July 2016), was recently named a New Hot Paper for Psychiatry & Psychology in Essential Science Indicators from Clarivate Analytics and featured on our Science Research Connect blog here.

Currently, this paper has 85 citations in the Web of Science. Below, lead author Dr. Martin Hagger discusses this paper and its significance in the field.


Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

It addresses a topic about which there is considerable controversy—that people’s self-control is limited. There has been a lot of attention and debate in the literature over this theory, based on a meta-analysis we conducted a while ago. There were concerns over the robustness of the theory and the effect, so we conducted a pre-registered replication study to test the effect in labs across the globe.

Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

It replicates an experiment on self-control and raises questions regarding a particular theory and way of testing people’s self-control.

Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman’s terms?

Theory on ‘ego-depletion’ suggests people can participate in tasks that require self-control (e.g., controlling impulses, modifying habits, resisting temptations) but only for a finite period. But some have questioned the strength and even existence of this effect. Our replication suggests that the ego-depletion effect is very small and no different from zero.

How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you’ve encountered along the way?

The journal Perspectives on Psychological Science leads an initiative to replicate controversial topics in psychology, and this was one of the first in that series. Co-ordinating 23 labs’ work across the globe presented considerable challenges, but with careful planning and correspondence we were able to get the project finished.

Where do you see your research leading in the future?

It has already inspired much debate and theorizing on why the effect has been found in so many labs, but seems not to be replicable. Importantly, it seems to be shaping debate on how best to test effects of self-control in the lab and in the field. Some similar replication studies have also supported our findings, while others have found effects, albeit small ones. So our research is contributing to debate and further research on self-control—which was our main goal.

Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Some have claimed that this will make it more difficult to get funding and published on research in self-control. However, we think that it has had the opposite effect and led to important basic, fundamental research on self-control, to theory on how it affects human behavior, and how it is measured.


Martin S. Hagger
John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Curtin University
Finland Distinguished Professor (FiDiPro), University of Jyväskylä
Editor, Health Psychology Review
Co-Editor, Stress and Health


Health Psychology & Behavioural Medicine Research Group &
Laboratory of Self-Regulation (LaSeR)
School of Psychology
Faculty of Health Sciences
Curtin University