Why an Entire Field of Psychology Is in Trouble

In 1998, a scientist named Roy Baumeister
decided to investigate a question that psychologists had been thinking about for a while: Do people have a limited amount of willpower? To figure it out, he and his research group
did what researchers do: they conducted a study. The results of that study seemed to show that
humans do have a limited pool of self-control. In other words, once we’ve had to resist
temptation, it’s a lot harder to do it again. They called this effect ego depletion, and
the idea has had a huge influence on psychological research ever since. It’s been incorporated into things like
dieting tactics, athletic training techniques, and advertising. But now, it seems like the phenomenon might
not exist at all — which has a lot of scientists worried about the way we do psychology research
in general. The concept of the ego goes way back. Sigmund Freud — who’s often called the
father of modern psychology — described the ego as the aspect of our personality that
makes decisions about how to interact with the real world. The ego has to figure out how to balance our
needs and desires within the context of reality and society. Freud believed that the ego would need energy
to keep up with those demands and decisions, but that was about as far as he got. Baumeister and his colleagues were trying
to test the 1990’s-version of this idea: that self-control is a limited resource, and
it takes energy — and motivation — to maintain restraint. According to this ego depletion theory, every
time you use your self-control, you draw on that strength, and it takes some time for
you to recover it. So, to test this hypothesis, Baumeister’s
team decided to create a task that would require two acts of self-control back-to-back. They figured if self-control can be used up,
then having to use a lot of self-control on the first task would mean that the subjects
would have less self-control available for the second task. So first, they baked a bunch of chocolate
chip cookies in a little oven in the lab, so the whole room smelled like fresh cookies. Then, they invited 67 psych students into
the lab, making sure they hadn’t eaten anything for a while. When the students arrived, they were each
brought into the baking room and asked to sit at a table. On the table were two plates: one filled with
those fresh, delicious cookies, and the other filled with radishes. Some of the students were told that they had
to eat the radishes — but no cookies — while others were told that they were supposed to
eat the cookies — but no radishes. Then, each student was left alone in the room
for five minutes. When the experimenter came back, they asked
the student to try to solve a difficult puzzle. But here’s the thing: the puzzle was designed
to be impossible to solve. What the researchers really wanted to know
was how long it took for the students to give up — and if spending a few minutes resisting
cookies would make it harder for them to keep trying. They found a big difference between the students
who weren’t allowed to eat cookies and the students who were. The students who were asked to only eat radishes
before doing the puzzle gave up on it in about eight minutes. But the students who were told to eat the
cookies worked at the puzzle for more than twice as long — almost nineteen minutes on
average. When a third group of students did the puzzle
test without any cookie encounters at all, they spent only a little longer trying to
solve it, averaging 21 minutes each. This seemed like very solid evidence for ego
depletion. The researchers concluded that the students
who were only allowed to eat radishes had to use a lot of self-control to not touch
the delicious, chocolatey cookies, so when they got to the puzzle test, they didn’t
have much willpower left to spare. But the students who got to eat the cookies
didn’t have to control themselves — they could just dig right in. Their willpower reserves were much higher,
so they worked at the puzzle longer. The same group did several more experiments
designed to test willpower under different circumstances and found the same results — whenever
participants were asked to do something that required self-control, they had a harder time
with the puzzle task. Which was a huge deal. A lot of the time, it can be difficult to
draw broad conclusions from psychology studies. Often, effects are only seen under very specific
conditions, and if you change an experiment even a little, you might end up with very
different findings. But Baumeister and his colleagues had shown
that this effect applied to more than just cookies and radishes — ego depletion showed
up in all kinds of different experiments. After that, ego depletion basically became
its own subfield of psychology. In 2007, researchers at Florida State University
figured out what seemed to be happening, biologically, as people used up their self-control: their
blood sugar levels were dropping. Our brains are high-energy organs: they need
a lot of energy to keep going. And that energy comes from sugar. The team thought that the psychological effort
of maintaining self-control might use up extra energy, which could mean that the brain was
burning through its available reserves faster than normal. They tested this idea by having some subjects
do willpower-related tasks, like watching an emotional or graphic video without showing
any emotion, while other subjects didn’t have to hold back. Sure enough, the people who’d used some
willpower had lower blood glucose levels. And! When they replenished that glucose with
a nice, refreshing glass of sugary lemonade, it seemed to restore their self-control. The evidence was pretty convincing — and
became even more convincing in 2010, when yet another group of researchers did a meta-analysis. They examined the results from 83 different
published studies on ego depletion, and concluded that the effect was real. But recently, some studies have started to
cast doubt on this whole ego depletion thing. One group of researchers, for example, found
that subjects didn’t have to actually drink lemonade to replenish their willpower — just
tasting it, without the corresponding changes in blood glucose, could be enough. Others found that what subjects believed about
willpower could affect their performance on self-control tasks. Participants who believed ego depletion was
real gave up on difficult tasks way before those who didn’t. And, people who thought of willpower as infinite
resource did just as well on the second difficult task as people who hadn’t done the first
task at all. Then, in 2014, some scientists tried to replicate
the original studies and couldn’t find the effect. The group decided to look more closely at
that 2010 meta-analysis, and they found a whole bunch of problems. For one thing, when they reanalyzed the data
using newer methods, the ego depletion effect disappeared. For another, the data included in the analysis
in the first place was probably biased in favor of ego depletion. See, scientific publications tend to publish
positive results — the kind that prove the researchers’ hypothesis. In other words: researchers might have done
lots of studies that /didn’t/ find evidence of ego depletion — but odds are, those results
wouldn’t have gotten published. The meta analysis only looked at the data
from published studies — so there might have been plenty of studies that didn’t find
the ego depletion effect, but the analysis just wasn’t taking those into account. When the team went back and included other,
unpublished data in the analysis, they found that — again — the ego depletion effect
just wasn’t there.. These results were popping up right as a wave
of concern about replicability was spreading through the psychology community. More and more researchers were saying that
they couldn’t reproduce the results of various psychological studies. This wasn’t just ego depletion, this was
all of psychology, and people were starting to doubt whether they could really trust the
published literature. All of this uncertainty led the Association
for Psychological Science to open a Registered Replication Report on ego depletion. Basically, one official experiment — based
on a study originally published in 2014 — would be conducted by researchers in many different
labs. Each group of scientists would analyze their results and compare them to the results
of the other research groups. Baumeister, the head of the original study,
was brought in to help design the experiments, and the psychologist who led the 2010 meta-analysis,
Martin Hagger, agreed to lead the project. Subjects were told to watch words flash on
a screen and to press a button whenever they saw a word containing the letter e – but not
if the letter e was within two spaces of another vowel. If that sounds like the most tedious, annoying
thing ever — that was the point. The subjects had to pay close attention, and
just like the original study, they then had to perform a follow-up self-control task. But when Hagger’s team did the same experiment
in 24 different labs in different countries and languages, the ego depletion effect evaporated. Only two of the 24 groups found the effect
at all — and even one group found the opposite effect! So what does all of this mean for ego depletion?
It depends. You could argue that it’s just this particular
task — with the words flashing on the screen — where ego depletion doesn’t show up,
but that willpower is still a limited resource. The thing is, the main reason why the ego
depletion effect was such a big deal was that it held true across so many different tests
— from cookies and radishes to conversations about race and discrimination to making decisions
about what cleaning product to buy. But now, it seems like ego depletion only
happens under very specific circumstances — if at all. Baumeister has said that he plans to launch
his own replication studies, in the hopes of proving that the effect is real. And other scientists who participated in the
Registered Replication Report have said that this single, failed replication isn’t enough
— more research needs to be done with different experimental methods before psychologists
can come to any real conclusions. In the meantime, some researchers have described
the field as being back at square one: ego depletion might be real, but it’s going
to take a lot more work — and a lot more replication — to know for sure. Either way, this whole thing is serving as
a kind of cautionary tale when it comes to scientific research, especially in social
psychology. Often, sample sizes are small, and the subjects
are mainly university students — so results of studies don’t necessarily apply to the
whole population. It’s also very difficult — if not impossible
— to reproduce the results of earlier research in other labs, with different researchers
and subjects. For scientists, who are just looking for the
truth, it’s a problem. And lots of people are talking about ways to improve the situation. One thing that might help is changing the
way experimental results are analyzed and published. This could involve publishing more negative
results, when the outcome of a study doesn’t prove the researchers’ hypothesis. It could also include more open sharing of
data and analytical methods, so that other, independent researchers can verify results. Hopefully, with changes like these, we’ll
end up with more reliable results and better science. Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow,
if you want to help us keep bringing you episodes like this, go to patreon.com/scishow. And
don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe!

100 thoughts on “Why an Entire Field of Psychology Is in Trouble”

  1. 'I am the thorn in your side that seeks accomplishment'
    'I am the spore of your pride, and angel heaven sent'
    'I am the urge of the flesh'

  2. When I was at university, I took intro psych, which meant that I was a guinea pig in two psych experiments. I don't remember one, but I remember the other because I've always thought it was stupidly flawed. We were asked to look at photos and grade the landscape shown on a scale of 1-5 indicating whether we responded to the image positively or not. They gave each group a scenario or story explaining that we were moving through these landscapes for a particular reason, the reason varying by group. Their hypothesis was that the photos showing brighter or sunnier landscapes would have a more positive score.

    The flaw was that they never asked us if we were using particular conscious criteria for our evaluation, let alone what those criteria were.

    My group's scenario was that we were searching for a 5 year old boy who had been missing long enough that he was presumed dead. My criteria was whether or not the photo showed bushes: more bushes, lower score. Because if there were no bushes, a body could be seen from some distance, but if there were bushes you might be right on top of him before seeing him – and that was definitely a negative as far as I was concerned. The photos of clear open grassy areas got the highest score from me, because it obviously did not conceal a body. I never had the slightest awareness whether the photo was sunny or not, and any correlation between sunniness and bushiness (or inverse, as was possibly the case) was purely coincidental.

    Psychology experiments do this A LOT. They set up parameters and never query the subjects on their decision making strategies. They /assume/ that whatever strategies the participants invoke will be randomized by multiple samples and/or scenarios. Assume. This. is. stupid.

  3. ego depletion is bs. If you "resist" something your not gonna go back to "resist" it again? The students were hungry.. im gettin tired of scientific bullspit.

    Talk about the fact that the word "autism" was coined to describe children with scizophrenia by a Dr studying scizophrenia. There is no autism spectrum. Its the scizophrenic spectrum.. "aspurger syndrome" patients are scizophrenics that have had positve support. This is proven because there are no differences in symptoms and medicines prescribed to treat aspurger and scizophrenic patients. lol! i seen a few vids where Drs are asking if "aspurger patients" are the "upgraded" human 😂. Whats tragic is that people are still getting diagnosed as "scizophrenic" and sentenced to a life sentence of discrimination when its just a matter of whos your "shrink". but what do i know.. im just a "scizophrenic" "aspy".

  4. i chose this video to watch instead of going to get cookie dough ice cream from down stairs… it's severely testing my will power :C

  5. It's not just one test though, when you have 24 different labs and teams preforming the same experiment separately, that's 24 separate experiments.

  6. I'm paused @ 2:38. I know whats wrong. The ones who had to eat cookies had high blood sugar from the cookies. The ones forced to eat radishes and smell cookies, had low blood sugar from the sweet smell making them produce more insulin, while the radishhes provided little to no available sugars. Ha Ha. Shows Baumeister knew nothing of physiology.

  7. So psychologists feed people sugary products or lets them taste sugary products which is energy for the brain and they find the brain works harder. They then twist this round and say those that didn't have sugar suffer from ego depletion more?

    How stupid can you be. Similar studies have been done on the effect sugary and sugar substitutes have on physical exercise and guess what? Those that had sugary drinks performed better than those who didn't.

    The subject of psychology has s massive problem and that's because those in it are so blinkered and myopic as regards how the brain works, they haven't got a clue.

  8. it seems clear that all studies done should publish the results, positive and negative… otherwise the whole system is flawed. After all we now live in an internet age and are not limited to pages in magazines.. If we don't get the whole picture we don't really find out the truth.

  9. I have always had a measure of distrust regarding the "social sciences". There are so many factors to control for, including ones that might not be obvious or accounted for. It is very difficult to completely rid the experiments and data analysis of the subjective factors with researchers and even people applying the tests.
    Subjectivity has always been a major problem in the social sciences.
    I am not saying it is all bunk, only that it has some major problems not yet dealt with.

  10. The radish eating students were just smarter than the rest. Bam. Science. Honestly, students who are stupid enough to eat cookies in a classroom environment are fools. You never know what someone put in them for an experiment.

  11. The problem I see with "ego depletion" experiments is that there's no clear definition of "will power", and it may not even exist. A child with undeveloped impulse control might find it difficult to keep from eating someone else's cookies, but a mature adult will simply note that the cookies are not theirs, and ignore them. No magical "will power" is required to not eat the cookies.

    Other issues: People will have different levels of attraction to cookies and to radishes. They will have different feelings about being told what to eat or not. Individuals will have had different histories with solving difficult problems, and that background will affect how long they are willing to work at one. This effect could easily be much stronger than the effect being tested for. A particularly astute person may see that the problem is insoluble in three minutes, and stop for that reason.

    It's not a good test, in a lot of ways.

  12. At its best: psychology is to neurology as physical therapy is to orthopedics
    At its worst: psychology is to neurology as astrology is to astronomy
    Psychology/psychiatry is what you go into when you just can't be bothered with scientific rigor, statistical accuracy or ethics.
    All true "psychiatric" illnesses are neurological, NOT psychological. If you suspect you have a problem, go to someone who understands both the superficial labels (psychiatry) and the causes (neurology).

  13. but but but i love radishes
    besides if you figure out obvious futility faster is it not possible that cookies just kept people occupied longer and less likely to give up because they want cookies?
    it would've been my first hypothesis after looking at the data. i mean it is my first hypothesis as soon as this video started.
    now i'll go watch to the end 🙂

  14. The hungry students/cookie/radish test was, IMO, a stupid waste of time. The cookies of necessity would boost blood sugar and fat levels. Cookies would alleviate any stress from hunger.

    A big will power issue is with addictions. Research seems to indicate that dopamine levels create anticipation and anticipation leads to anxiety and desire to alleviate unpleasant symptoms. I would suppose hungry students smelling freshly baked cookies would have a boost in dopamine and the desire would be fulfilled by eating cookies. The cookie eaters would be revitalized in general and I think it is a poor test of so-called will power.

  15. Physics and Math works cuz atoms and numbers can't think and change their decisions at will.
    While Human brains are too complicated and can manipulate so that a particular theory can't explain it. Hence Psychology is flawed

  16. Its kind of odd how people who do not believe in God use things like ego…perhaps they should reexamine their motives .. are believers in God just wacked?? why do we have a 3000 year old book no one has ever proven is wrong? why is there so much archeological evidence for it? When we want to do good things .. yet we end up doing wrong things our reasoning our motives for doing them is wrong? No one is perfect the one who was had been crucified 2000 years ago.. perhaps this ego is remorse for sin ? and by convincing people to ignore it actually is deceptive .. in that it will build excuses to never search for god and obey him?? Repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ not your own sinful nature

  17. Totally mis identities the issue. Clearly just measured plain old mental energy depletion. Thinking power depletion.

  18. Actually it shows Metaanalysis is a useless statistical method for truth finding but golden for both supporting and publishing one’s pretextual beliefs.

  19. The only time I run out of willpower to do something is when I have failed to do that thing several times.

    It can take weeks to months for me to recover the will to try that very same thing again.

  20. Students in K-12 schools are taught to do their experiments dispassionately and to write up their results whether their hypothesis was supported or not. They're taught that be hypothesis is wrong, simply unsupported. They're taught this is how science is done. They are effectively lied to. Scientists are supposed to do it that way, but they don't as this very video states. Heck, the journals don't even want to publish them if the hypothesis isn't supported. No wonder scientists feel pressured to forge results.
    Mind you, it's a great way to get people to trust anyone who calls himself a scientific expert. Afterall, we're all supposed to blindly believe anything "scientists" tell us.

  21. Idiots need to consult a neurologist. The brain processes information in a manner that resembles a phase transition, and has evolved to figure out what is worth ignoring. It mediates between our different senses and our immune system, to figure out what is worth studiously ignoring, while our conscious mind attempts to figure out what is worth paying attention to. In fact, you have more than one brain, with the one in your stomach tying you to your environment, because it is composed of the flora and fauna in your gut. Each attempts to determine what is worth ignoring, with the brain in your head being the central nexus for them to all compare notes and figure out metadata. Its pattern matching where simply assembling more pieces of the puzzle will inevitably produce the correct answer. Consciousness evolved because it is an emergent effect, and the brain crunches the data in a manner that resembles a phase transition, which is the turning point, the boarder of chaos and order, when water transforms into steam.

    In over a century, nobody has ever proven the existence of common sense anywhere in the world, least of all, among academics.

  22. This is all based in a system where one is told when and how to do things in disregard for their current state of being. When a group is presented who was taught when and how to do things in well regard of their current state of being there were no limits. The portion of energy that reconfigured a "state of being" to acclimate to a presented situation. is limited and does represent time. But a simple choice once chosen is a state of being that needs no reaffirmation unless acted upon. then it becomes energy spent pursuing/energy spent staying still.

  23. I would take the cookies or nothing. I hate radishes.
    Also, what about students on diets? Or gluten-free/lactose-intolerant/etc, so they can't have the cookies? Those would change the willpower test.

  24. I feel like I would be an interesting test subject considering I for some reason go into an almost primal rage if I am kept from food for to long. I will chew on and try to eat anything around me, especially tree or wood products for some reason. I ate my babysitter's table once. It tasted like bananas. The important point I wanted to mention was that I lose all of my self control when I am starved.

  25. Sounds like the theory is not totally in error, it's just going at it from the wrong paradigm. When people get exposed to a behavior that they tried to resist, sometimes they start falling into the everybody else does it. I'm and they start resisting less. But it has nothing to do with their willpower, it's their own synapses creating workarounds to something that was uncomfortable for them to do. And yes proper behavior must be reinforced or it becomes improper. My older sister had the audacity to tell me several years ago that when she got hooked on drugs in the 1960s that there was nobody around to tell her it was wrong. I had to tell her in very plain English that everybody in the 1960s was telling you that drugs were bad for you, after thinking about it a bit she said yes they were. She died of an overdose about 4 months later, due to fentanyl laced heroin.

    Sounds like much more of an effect of recency bias or battery said recency influence than ego depletion.

  26. The reason the cookies helped was because sugar helps the brain function more in short term, so i think the brain was working better when the brain was getting sugar

  27. I think the people vulnerable to having performance problems under these circumstances are narcissists. If your ego has such an interference with your performance then it really does seem like narcissism could be a problem for you. If you are a humble person and can adapt to your own foibles and problems without taking such an ego hit then you're not going to have the same kind of performance anxiety as a narcissist.

  28. Or, the smart students figured out it was impossible to solve and so gave up sooner and the study being too small to draw any real conclusions from, wouldn't have necessarily isolated all variables.

  29. Interesting that the real issue wasn't addressed: psychology is not a science. This is obvious from the video. Real science does not have exceptions in energy depletion, for all work processes, especially the brain in biology, require energy and will be subject to depletion requiring resupply. The only question in real science is not whether energy is used but how much?

  30. Here's the solution to this dilemma;
    Acknowledge that "psychology" is not actually a science-period.
    Here's why I wrote that-science is based on facts, believe it or not.
    But "psychologists" refuse to use brain scans.
    A human being is not only a 'psyche', but includes physical aspects.
    Brain scans reveal the facts about a person's brain-using that information first, then adding some "psychology" could possibly work.
    But given the fact that "psychologists" are drug-dependent & they refuse to use physical exams like real doctors they are never going to be able to understand what is really going on inside the human psyche
    How much further along would "psychology" be if the psychological authorities were reasonable?
    There is literally no way to even estimate the impediment to progress the irrational positions have presented to actual progress.

  31. I think of it in a slighty different way. Willpower can be countered by frustration, pain and sometimes by stress. Acumulating frustration hurts your ability to exert your willpower. People have a "max" willpower, which tells how far it can go to do something dificult. It can be trained to increase it over time, but doesn't actually deplete. Instead it interacts with other stimuli to produce a final result: to do or not to do. Doing something you are familiar with or pleasurable aligns with willpower, while being scared, in pain, depresed, hungry, etc works against it.

  32. Hmmm… the blood glucose levels of the subjects we stuffed with chocolate chip cookies are HIGHER than the blood glucose levels of the people who politely nibbled on radishes. What could explain this? WHAT?
    Ego Depletion. That's the only thing it could be. I mean, it's just so obvious. I can't think of ANY other explanation.

  33. how is it that no one understands that the original experiments weren't testing willpower they were testing the level of aggravation of individuals who are forced to do something annoying.

    A test is not inherently annoying.

    Sitting in a room with cookies and being told to eat radishes is.

    But if you can maintain your cool because you know that it's a specific experiment designed to test will power… You never get annoyed and it never becomes difficult.

    How is it that nobody sees it?


  34. Depends, if it's your choice (ie you plan not to eat cookies for a year) or someone telling you, your asked not to eat the cookies then it's easy, but if you're told your already annoyed so won't give your all. It's like being in a chip shop and the sign says hot surface don't touch, you have to touch it. But if the sign said very hot surface and didn't say don't touch, your less likely to touch.

  35. Will power can and cannot be depleted as will power is just the cause and effect of thought, a chain reaction of sorts with a piece of the chain building up or destroying the feeling (the ego I suppose) of I can or I cannot eat this. They should be studying the cause and effect of thought on cognitive possesses: Buddhism, 5,000+ years of cognitive psychology. Refuting arguments welcome.

  36. Pshyc profs make you do their experiments via threats of extra work. Most of us did the experiments but screwed the results on purpose every time for payback.

  37. funny, but in my religion the opposit is believed: the more you exerce will power, the more self disciplined you get. meaning like a musclle, the more you use it , the stronger it gets. it is also believed that falling to one temptation, makes exerting yr will power afterwards harher and harder

  38. Grit is the quality you really want. It can be learned and built. Drive is even better. Unfortunately it is genetic, but if you have it, go get 'em tiger!

  39. Don't be fooled by the insane telling you they are sane and the other guys are insane. The real psychopaths are easily spotted when you see them with clear eyes. Psychopaths always use violence or it's threat to get what they want:


    https://patch.com/us/across-america/area-has-more-psychopaths-any-other-place-us (Which is Washington DC)

  40. There are too many variables with people and their brains. This is why I stick to studying atoms – they're more predictable.

  41. social science is not a real science , experimentally disprovable /provable like the speed of a falling object or the up or down spin of a photon it is an (ology)

  42. Once your brain is satisfied with a sweet buttery pile of cookies you have more time to figure out not just that the problem is unsolvable but why the problem is unsolvable.

  43. I think the blood sugar levels in the cookie eaters making their brains better able to function because it had the necessary energy reserves

  44. Even the concept of willpower is vague; persistence, motivation, abstinence and others seem to be lumped together by different studies.

  45. I was told that if you question science then you are a science denier that shouldn't be allowed to use GPS or smartphones. Now you are saying science can get things wrong for decades?

  46. Most people who get into psychology do so because they want to understand why they are nuts to begin with. The whole field is filled with a lot of hoodoo bunk. More people would so well to just suck it up and get on with their lives.

  47. I know I would be a lot more suerly if someone put cookies in front of me and didn't let me have one than if I made the decision on my own. I probably would have a cookie as I don't normally keep treats in my home and don't see the harm of having one or two. I always thought self control was supposed to be easier if practiced regularly.

  48. I'm not sure I'd have asked the designer of the original experiment to help design the new one, since his experiment was clearly flawed. It doesn't say much for his judgement or those around him!
    All this confirms what I already thought, ie that Psychology is pseudoscience.

  49. When a whole field of science is built completely on human constructs, it’s bound to fail. Especially once that field is bought out by big pharmaceutical.

  50. The amount of energy lost is probably directly correlated to the amount of time the person spends focusing on the item that they cannot have, thus partaking in ACTIVE WILLPOWER. Rather than having discipline and just annexing it from your mind, where it would become a PASSIVE PROCESS that takes no extra energy.

    At least, that's my opinion.

  51. If you put me in a room with fresh chocolate cookies, that I can't eat and then give me a difficult task,!
    Believe me I'm not going to spend much effort on anything they want me to do.
    Why are psychologists too dumb to figure that out?

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