A Summary of Michael Inzlicht’s Podcast: Is Ego Depletion Real?

On the second of October 2019 Two Psychologists Four Beers posted a podcast interviewing Dr. Michael Inzlicht (https://fireside.fm/s/Ah1OZyuo+UHevUV0y ). Dr. Inzlicht is one of the top experts in the field of self-control and known world-wide for his explorative and creative research in social psychology. The interview aimed to answer the question: Is ego depletion real. I tried to summarise the main points to save time for those who do not have the time to listen to the whole podcast. It offers a wonderful introduction as well for those who are not familiar with the field of studying self-control.

  • Introduction to Self-control
  1. Baumeister published a recent chapter about the replication crisis of ego depletion that was referred to frequently by Michael throughout the podcast. Find here: (https://psyarxiv.com/uf3cn/download?format=pdf).
  2. In their book “self-control” which was published in 1994, Baumeister and colleagues noted the multifaceted importance of self-control and the possibility that it might be based on some sort of resource (as it can be conceptualized as a restraining force).
  3. Baumeister’s argument widened the self-control to include myriad social phenomena such as prejudice, diet, emotion regulation and moral behaviour.
  4. Michel’s famous work of the marshmallow experiment did not have a high impact like Baumeister’s, where self-control became very popular.
  • Ego Depletion
  1. Baumeister’s idea states that self-control requires fuel (resource). When it runout by being used, we become unable to practice self-control sufficiently. This is the definition of ego depletion.
  2. Michael added that the resources are not drained by the situations of goal conflict and “unenjoyable” social inhibition only, excessive mental needs can do the same.
  3. Ego depletion studies are very sexy, elegant with “cool” manipulation methods and appealing muscle analogy, which brought them fame.
  4. The idea that self-control resources are not metaphorical rather real in the form of Glucose drew heavy criticism.
  5. It was found that ego depletion can be overcome through incentivising participants by reward or being kind toward them. This questioned the validity of a physical resource model. Alternative models of mental resources were offered (e.g. grit, motivation & computational taxing)
  • The Replication Crisis of Ego Depletion
  1. Despite having 600+ replications of ego depletion, around 2013-2014 things started going off the rails.
  2. Carter and Mccullough’s paper (2014) criticised the meta-analysis of Haggers et. al. (2010) by the following:
  1. Haggers’ analysis included only one non-published study.
  2. There was no correction for publication bias.
  1. The updated meta-analysis of Carter and Mccullough’s (2015) reduced the effect size to be almost zero after it used to be (0.62) in Haggers’. 
  2. Michael Inzlicht and colleagues argued against the publication bias corrections of Carter and Mccullough as being not accurate and supported the notion of a big registered replication report (RRR).
  3. The RRR (2016) yielded an overall effect size of ego depletion that can not be distinguished from zero. 
  4. Despite the consensus on the soundness of the behavioral paradigm of RRR, except one lab!, Baumeister criticised the results of RRR by the following: 
  • Not using multiple depletion paradigms as he suggested (the authors were looking for cultural-free tasks to suit the multi-national RRR)
  • Using a paradigm that he did not approve.
  1. Despite the initial refusal of the RRR results, after a series of interrogative studies, Michael is now convinced that ego depletion could be actually dead.
  2. Inzlicht stated that even at the flourishing time of ego depletion he was barely able to get the effect at all (00:49:42). In the time when he got it, it was with a small effect and different from what is classically described as ego depletion.
  3. Baumeister defended ego depletion by saying if 600+ empirical studies were not enough to convince us that ego depletion is not real, then I am not sure what I can believe in social psychology. He also added that the tax of rejecting ego depletion would be much high includes accepting conspiracy and non-logical accidentalities.
  • Alternative Explanations
  1. In their paper: “Is Ego Depletion Real?” in 2019, Malte Frese and colleagues argued that the file drawers should include many thousands (up to 12000) of failed unpublished studies of ego depletion in order for the publication bias to be a valid explanation of the replication crisis. If using questionable research practices (QRP), such as hacking for p value, were assumed to underlie the false-positive results, then publication bias can be accepted as an explanation with file drawer unpublished studies not exceeding a few thousands!! 
  2. Michael, on the other hand, argues that if the depletion is not real then why almost all studies did not show reversed results to the hypothesis (except two)!
  3. Michael suggests considering the depletion is nothing but a form of mental fatigue. Optimistically one might say the depletion could be real conceptually but not as it is described in the literature.
  4. It could be assumed that ego depletion was perceived by scientists as a sensible result of practicing self-control as a lay person might expect a car to run out of fuel upon being used. This might potentially be what made scientists fall into confirmation bias and being less skeptical regarding the results of ego depletion.
  5. The replication crisis is not encapsulated to ego depletion, it warns the entire field of social psychology.

  • The Future of Ego Depletion Research
  1. Inzlicht predicts no future of ego depletion; however, the notion of studying ego depletion as a form of fatigue may last longer if:  
  • Real theories with accurate falsifiable assumptions is to be drawn instead of referring to open constructs like motivation or resources. 
  • An explanation is to be offered to when fatigue and ego depletion should meet each other.
  1. Instead of lab-based methods, more real-world scenarios should be included.
  2. Not only valid self-control measures should be developed, rather counter validity measurements should be developed to avoid using non-valid measures.
  3. RRR should be seriously adopted in controversial topics.
  4. Social psychology is getting less popular and might vanish if the rate of reduced replicability is keep increasing. 
  5. It is a great time to emphasise on the empirical spirit of science more than the theoretical assumptions.

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