Is willpower something you just have or don't have, or it is something that we have in a certain quantity that diminishes over the course of a day, as we use it?
Today I read an account of a study that has been interpreted as suggesting the latter, but reading about how the study was conducted makes me wonder whether there could have been something else at play.
There were two groups of participants. One was given chocolate treats. The other could see the treats but was allowed to eat only radishes.
Afterward, they were both given what was represented as a puzzle that measures intelligence, but the point was actually to measure how long they stuck with it before giving up.
The chocolate group worked on the puzzle for an average of 20 minutes.
The group that had radishes worked on it for an average of 8 minutes.
The conclusion of the study: "Thus, those people who had to resist the confectionary and eat the plain vegetables could not engage in a second demanding task. Their willpower was already drained and they were too tired."
Wait a minute. The article says:
Many of the people who were left to eat radishes “exhibit[ed] clear interest in the chocolates, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them,” the scientists wrote in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper.
I have an alternate explanation. You make me watch other people eat chocolate treats, you even let me sniff the cookies, but you give me only radishes and then you want me to solve your damn puzzle? Forget it, I'm outta here at the first opportunity.
I'm not fatigued or lacking willpower. In fact, it takes all the willpower I have to stay for even eight minutes.
My scientific conclusion:
If you annoy people, they won't put much effort into doing what you ask them to do.