Self-control is critical for achievement and well-being. However, people’s capacity for self-control is limited and becomes depleted through use. One prominent explanation for this depletion posits that self-control consumes energy through carbohydrate metabolization, which further suggests that ingesting carbohydrates improves self-control. Some evidence has supported this energy model, but because of its broad implications for efforts to improve self-control, we reevaluated the role of carbohydrates in self-control processes. In four experiments, we found that (a) exerting self-control did not increase carbohydrate metabolization, as assessed with highly precise measurements of blood glucose levels under carefully standardized conditions; (b) rinsing one’s mouth with, but not ingesting, carbohydrate solutions immediately bolstered self-control; and (c) carbohydrate rinsing did not increase blood glucose. These findings challenge metabolic explanations for the role of carbohydrates in self-control depletion; we therefore propose an alternative motivational model for these and other previously observed effects of carbohydrates on self-control.
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