The “process-model” of self-control proposes that the ego-depletion effect is better explained by a switch between interest in “have-to” labor and cognitive “want-to” leisure, rather than being mainly due to a decrease in cognitive resources, as advanced by the “strength-model” of self-control. However, it is currently difficult to disentangle the “process-model” from the “strength-model” of self-control. Here, we employed a stepwise approach, featuring three studies, for testing the process model of self-control.
In Study 1, we created a list of 30 self-control events for characterizing “have-to” conducts in the daily life. In Study 2, mental visualization of effortful self-control events (“have-to”) and monetary risk-taking (“want-to”) were employed for testing the strength-model of self-control. In Study 3, to test the process-model of self-control, participants were simply required to read self-control (or neutral) sentences.
Study 1 provided evidence regarding external validly for the list of self-control events. Study 2 showed that mental visualization of effortful self-control events increases subsequent monetary risk-taking. Study 3 highlighted that the brief apparition of a self-control-related sentence was sufficient for increasing risk-taking. These patterns were evidenced in the trial with the less advantageous gain/loss ratio.
Altogether these findings support the process-model of self-control in showing that triggering the semantic content of a “have-to” conduct, without its actual execution, is sufficient for modulating subsequent “want-to” activity.