Violence restrained: Effects of self-regulation and its depletion on aggression

C. Nathan DeWall, Roy F. Baumeister, Tyler F. Stillman, Matthew T. Gailliot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

508 Scopus citations


Aggressive impulses arise from many factors, but they are usually held in check by social norms for self-control. Thus, the proximal cause of aggression is often failure of self-restraint. In five studies, depleted capacity for self-regulation (caused by prior, even irrelevant acts of self-regulation) increased aggressive responding, especially after an insulting provocation. When participants were insulted and their self-regulatory strength was depleted (i.e., after completing previous tasks that required self-regulation), participants were more likely to aggress. When the urge to aggress was relatively weaker (i.e., when participants were not insulted), self-regulatory depletion did not increase aggressive behavior. This effect was moderated by trait self-control: Participants low in trait self-control were particularly likely to express intentions of behaving aggressively in response to provocation, whereas participants high in trait self-control did not express intentions of responding aggressively. Laboratory, autobiographical memory, and hypothetical responses confirmed the pattern.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-76
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge support by grant MH-65559 from the National Institutes of Health. The authors thank Chuck Eigenberg for his assistance with the preparation of the manuscript.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Aggression
  • Ego depletion
  • Self-control
  • Self-regulation
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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