Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor

Matthew T. Gailliot, Roy F. Baumeister, C. Nathan Dewall, Jon K. Maner, E. Ashby Plant, Dianne M. Tice, Lauren E. Brewer, Brandon J. Schmeichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

829 Scopus citations


The present work suggests that self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source. Laboratory tests of self-control (i.e., the Stroop task, thought suppression, emotion regulation, attention control) and of social behaviors (i.e., helping behavior, coping with thoughts of death, stifling prejudice during an interracial interaction) showed that (a) acts of self-control reduced blood glucose levels, (b) low levels of blood glucose after an initial self-control task predicted poor performance on a subsequent self-control task, and (c) initial acts of self-control impaired performance on subsequent self-control tasks, but consuming a glucose drink eliminated these impairments. Self-control requires a certain amount of glucose to operate unimpaired. A single act of self-control causes glucose to drop below optimal levels, thereby impairing subsequent attempts at self-control. (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-336
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Attention
  • Emotion regulation
  • Glucose
  • Prejudice
  • Self-regulation
  • Willpower

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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