Friday, June 17, 2011

Free Will in Limited Supply?

Is self-control a limited resource? Do we deplete our supply as we make decisions throughout our day? A recent piece in The New Republic by Jamie Holmes explores social psychology research that suggests that willpower is, indeed, limited. Experiments have demonstrated that people who complete tasks which require them to exert self-control become less able to exert self-control on subsequent tasks.

The article focuses on poverty and asks, why can't more poor people escape poverty? Holmes offers a brief introduction into the psychology of economic decision making. He then argues that poor people must routinely make weighty decisions which wealthier people would consider trivial—whether to buy food or medicine, for example. Making these decisions exerts a mental cost, depleting the willpower of the poor, and making their escape from poverty even more challenging.

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