A subject in an office-building setting is asked to memorize a list of numbers and to write them down on a whiteboard in another room on the opposite side of the building.

The subject must navigate a series of hallways in order to get from the first room to the other room.

At a certain point midway through the hallways, the subject is approached by a confederate who asks the subject if she would like a treat. The subject is given two choices:

  • 1) a high-nutrition, moderately-tempting snack with a low level of self-indulgence
  • 2) a low-nutrition-value, highly-tempting snack with a high level of self-indulgence


There exists a relationship between complexity of the memorization task and the choice to accept the high self-indulgence snack, such that:

  • The subjects are more likely to accept the high self-indulgence snack if the memorization task is more complex and imposes a higher cognitive load.
  • The greater the cognitive load of an in-process mental task means the greater deficiency the subject will have in being able to resist or "self-censor" behaviors.


Can anyone provide links or references that relate to the above hypothesis and test?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is this a description of an existing study which you can't find? $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ //Is this a description of an existing study which you can't find?// Yes, or at least substantially similar to this description. $\endgroup$
    – dreftymac
    Commented Jun 18, 2013 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


Gailliot et al (2007), didn't do it with a memorization task, but with a variety of other tasks requiring self-control:

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.

  • Gailliot, Matthew T., et al. "Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor." Journal of personality and social psychology 92.2 (2007): 325. PDF

Another paper that might be relevant is Vohs and Heatherton (2000). They examined self-regulation failure in a group of dieters and non-dieters. The idea behind their study was that dieters would have an increased incidence of self-regulation failure because they must consistently maintain self control around food.

In one of the studies they had a low temptation condition where candy was placed far away and a high temptation condition where candy was within reach. The experimenters also manipulated the availability of the candy by telling participants to either "do not touch" or to "help yourself. The participants then had to watch a 10 minute movie with the candy nearby.

After the movie the participants were taken to a separate room and asked to complete an ice cream tasting task. Following a brief tasting, the participants were told "By the way, help yourself to any ice cream you want; we have tons in the freezer." The dependent variable was how much ice cream was eaten in each condition.

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The results showed that dieters ate approximately the same amount of ice cream in the "do not touch" conditions, but ate significantly more in the "help yourself" condition with high temptation. The authors conclude that the dieters exercised so much self control when snacks were in reach and available that they had far less self-control available following the ice cream tasting.

  • Vohs KD and Heatherton TF. (2000). Self-regulatory failure: A resource-depletion approach. Psychological Science, 11(3), 249-254.
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely related to food intake, but I don't see how this is related exactly to a memorization task. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 9:59

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