There is a lack of information regarding the importance of motivation in self-regulation theories. Thus, the proponents of this study attempts to understand the role of motivation in the context of “strength, or limited-resource, model of self-control in several domains” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p.1).
The proponents of this research discovered that a reduction in resources can be overcome by motivation even if ego depletion is not the direct consequence of a lack of motivation. Interestingly, the study also discovered that self-regulation is linked to physical fuel specifically glucose-rich foods.
Previous research has indicated that self-regulation is affected by at least three factors: a) standard; b) monitoring; c) self-regulatory strength (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Self-regulation must be linked to a particular standard because self-regulation at its core is altering behavioral response on account of a particular need or goal.
Thus, a person desiring food must satisfy that need and there is no inner-conflict that prevents the individual from seeking and consuming viable food resources. However, if eating food at a particular time and particular quantities can endanger the person’s health, then, self-regulation is needed.
The ability to self-regulate becomes weaker over time as the need to satisfy a particular urge grows stronger. This is countered by a monitoring scheme. For example, an accountability group helps a sex addict cope with his/her addiction knowing that there is a group of people monitoring his/her progress and interested in his/her success.
On the other hand all of these things are useless to the individual if he/she has no self-regulatory strength. Previous research has uncovered that “after making many choices, the chooser is less able to engage in good self-control, suggesting that making choices exhausts the self over time” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p.9). This phenomenon is also known as ego depletion.
Previous research also pointed out that “physically tired people generally perform worse than others at strenuous tasks, but if the incentive is high enough, they can perform well despite their tiredness” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p.10).
There is also the added revelation that “effective self-regulation seems to involve utilizing the glucose in the bloodstream to achieve what is a psychologically difficult and biologically costly task, such as stifling one’s behavioral impulses or making difficult choices … when glucose – the primary source of fuel for all brain processes – has been depleted, the person is temporarily less able to function at optimal levels” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p.11).
It has been made clear that a person must not allow the self to reach a point of ego depletion and this means that the body must have continuous access to glucose-rich foods.
The proponents of this study wanted to add another factor to the self-regulation process and they asserted that motivation plays a vital role in helping the individual self-regulate. However, they were unable to develop an empirical study that would clearly explain the connection between motivation and self-regulation.
The proponent of the study spent a great deal of time explaining the significance of access to glucose-rich foods to help a person self-regulate rather than the ability of motivation to counteract the negative impact of ego depletion or fatigue.
The weakness of the argument can be seen in the experiment that they had cited to support their claim. It has to be pointed out that the proponents of this study did not bother to develop their own empirical research and instead used the research results of studies made by Muraven, Shmueli and Burkley. Even so, the chosen studies did not seem to demonstrate the ability of motivation to significantly affect self-regulation.
In one particular study the participants were asked to perform a depleting task. Afterwards they were asked to perform a second task with the added information that they would perform a third task. The study showed that the participants performed poorly on the second task.
Baumeister and Vohs (2007) interpreted the depleted state of the participants as the effect of a conservation process – they were conserving their energy while performing the second task in anticipation of the third task. Baumeister and Vohs (2007) went on to conclude that the participants were motivated to perform the third task and thus explaining the significant change in their efforts for the second task.
Baumeister and Vohs (2007) concluded that motivation plays a key role in self-regulation arguing that if the second task was deemed more important, then, the participants would have expended more resources. This is based on the assumption that the participants were highly motivated to perform the third task but there was no information given to support that view.
The argument made in the beginning of the study was that motivation should be an important factor in self-regulation. This may be true but Baumeister and Vohs did not perform a well-designed empirical research that would have proven their point. Instead, they tried to use the results of another study made by different group of researchers to fit their own assumptions.
For instance, Baumeister and Vohs could not establish the fact that the participants in their cited study were motivated to perform the third task. There was also no measurement made with regards to the degree of motivation whether the participants were simply motivated or highly-motivated to complete the tasks given them.
Baumeister and Vohs had a clear understanding of the problem but they were unable to show evidence that would support their hypothesis. The weakness of the research is its overreliance on previous experiments without going through the process of conducting a valid empirical study to validate their hypothesis.
There is a need to clearly define what motivation means and how it can be measured. Baumeister and Vohs must develop a control group and they must isolate the effect of physical strength and access to food as the main source of self-regulation. Nevertheless, the value of this study is in the realization that not much is known regarding the impact of motivation to self-regulation.
Baumeister and Vohs were unable to show evidence to support their argument that motivation is an important factor when it comes to self-regulation. Nevertheless, their study has provided excellent background information regarding self and personality.
The most important information that can be gleaned from the study is the impact of three factors: standard; monitoring; and self-regulatory strength, to achieve effective self-regulation. Another important piece of information is the linkage between energy from glucose-rich foods and the ability of the person to self-regulate.
Baumeister and Vohs have laid the foundation for an interesting research; they simply have to develop their own empirical research to clearly demonstrate that motivation can help boost a person’s ability to self-regulate in conjunction with the other three important factors mentioned earlier.
Baumeister, R. & K. Vohs. (2007). Self-regulation, ego depletion, and motivation.
Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/assets/90559.pdf