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The Concept of Ego Depletion in Psychology Essay

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Updated: Aug 20th, 2019

Apart from healing time, younger people are not overwhelmed by emotional fatigue which can be another name of ego depletion. Admittedly, the concept of ego depletion can confirm that younger people can better cope with such ordeal as the loss of a close one. However, it is necessary to take a closer look at the notion of ego depletion to understand its effects on people’s behavior.

Notably, Freud mentioned concepts similar to the concept of ego depletion (Baumeister et al., 1998). He claimed that ego was like a rider who was trying to control his horse (i.e. id), which is sometimes impossible. He also believed that there were certain limits to people’s capacity to control their nature (Baumeister et al., 1998).

Now researchers have more specific ideas on the matter. For instance, Baumeister and Vohs (2007, p. 117) define ego depletion as “a state in which the self does not have all the resources it has normally”.

Vohs et al. (2011, p. 166) provide a more precise definition stating that “[e]arlier engagements in self-regulation lead to later self-regulation failures, a hangover effect”. It is important to note that researchers quite agree upon the definitions, but they have different views on one important point.

Thus, some researchers suggest that self-regulation is unlimited and motivation can diminish ego depletion (Job et al., 2010; Vohs et al., 2012).

However, it is necessary to add that Vohs et al. (2012) admit that this is true when it comes to some everyday self-control scenarios, whereas ego depletion increases in such cases as death of a close one, severe health problems experiences, etc. Schmeichel et al. (2003) provide valuable data which verify these assumptions.

Though the researchers focuse on cognitive operations, it is obvious that more complex psychological processes lead to higher levels of ego depletion (be it reasoning or experiencing emotional traumas).

At the same time, a lot of researchers argue that self-regulation is indeed limited. Various surveys and experiments confirm such assumptions. For instance, Job et al. (2011) state that the availability of information on limited or unlimited self-regulation resources only affects people’s perception on the matter, but have no effect on actual level of ego depletion.

In other words, even though people start believing they can cope with a variety of problems irrespective of their previous experiences, this does not affect their actual ability to handle this or that issue. Interestingly, Heatherton and Wagner (2011) focus on neurological aspect of the issue. Their study also confirms that people have different capacities to regulate their emotions with the course of time.

The researchers also claim that the more self-regulation people have to exert the higher level of ego depletion will occur. Leary and Tangney (2012) state that people try to improve their lives with the help of self-control. Self-control helps people fit the society, which, in its turn, helps them feel better.

Therefore, various surveys confirm that younger people have more capacity to overcome such psychological traumas as the loss of close people. When a young individual faces the issue for the first time, he/she feels distress and anxiety. However, young people find strength to exert self-control.

They may or may not be assisted. In other words, their friends, relatives or psychologists can help them find ways to cope with the problem. Thus, young people who experience such psychological traumas can accept the loss and move on.

Certain time later people have to experience similar feelings as the loss of relatives and close people is inevitable. Facing such problems, young people already have specific behavioral patterns to follow. They can exert self-control.

When it comes to older people, their capacity is coming to an end as each loss diminishes self-control capacity. Older people experience numerous sad events which make them grow weaker, so-to-speak. Updegraff and Taylor (2000) claim that people’s mastery diminishes each time they have to exert self-control.

Admittedly, elderly people are especially vulnerable as they exert self-control throughout their lives. Many elderly people have to live through the death of their child which is one of the most serious psychological traumas (Ryan, 2012).

Thus, the loss of a partner at eighty is more difficult to handle compared to the loss of a partner at thirty. In the latter case the individual has almost full capacity of self-control. However, the elderly individual has already spent considerable amount of his/her capacity while coping with various sad experiences during his/her lifetime. The level of ego depletion is high since this person has had to exert self-control previously.

There have been many associations with the concept of ego depletion. One of the easiest associations is as follows: holding a 7-kilo package can seem quite difficult at the beginning. However, this package can seem simply intolerable after holding it for a couple of hours.

Likewise, when exerting self-control for the first time, it is difficult, but in the course of time this task can seem unbearable. Therefore, the concept of ego depletion does confirm that older people regulate their emotions worse or even much worse than younger people.

Reference List

Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M. & Tice, D.M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252-1265.

Baumeister, R.F., & Vohs, K.D. (2007). Self-regulation, ego depletion, and motivation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1(1), 115-128.

Heatherton, T.F. & Wagner, D.D. (2011). Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(3), 132-139.

Job, V., Dweck, C.S. & Walton, G.M. (2010). Ego depletion – is it all in your head? Implicit theories about willpower affect self-regulation. Psychological Science, 21(11), 1686-1693.

Leary, M.R. & Tangney, J.P. (2012). Handbook of self and identity. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Ryan, R.M. (2012). The Oxford handbook of human motivation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Schmeichel, B.J., Vohs, K.D. & Baumeister, R.F. (2003). Intellectual performance and ego depletion: Role of the self in logical reasoning and other information processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(1), 33-46.

Updegraff, J.A. & Taylor, S.E. (2000). From vulnerability to growth: Positive and negative effects of stressful life events. In J.H. Harvey & E.D. Miller (Ed.), Loss and trauma: General and close relationship perspectives (pp. 3-21). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Vohs, K.D., Glass, B.D., Maddox, W.T. & Markman, A. (2011). Ego depletion is not just fatigue: Evidence from a total sleep deprivation experiment. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(2), 166-173.

Vohs, K.D., Baumeister, R.F., Schmeichel, B.J. (2012). Motivation, personal beliefs, and limited resources all contribute to self-control. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Web.

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