Overcoming the effects of sleep deprivation on unethical behavior: An extension of integrated self-control theory

David Welsh, Ke Michael Mai, Aleksander P.J. Ellis, Michael S. Christian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Previous research has used an ego depletion perspective to establish a self-regulatory model linking sleep deprivation to unethical behavior via depletion (Barnes, Schaubroeck, Huth, & Ghumman, 2011; Christian & Ellis, 2011; Welsh, Ellis, Christian, & Mai, 2014). We extend this research by moving beyond depletion to examine a more nuanced, process-based view of self-control. We draw on integrative self-control theory (Kotabe & Hofmann, 2015) to identify two critical moderators of the relationship between sleep and unethical behavior. Whereas prior research has focused mainly on the deleterious effects associated with depleted control capacity – such as sleep deprivation – we suggest that factors influencing control motivation and control effort are also an essential part of the self-regulatory process. First, we examine the role of control motivation, hypothesizing that a perceived sense of power moderates the relationship between sleep deprivation and depletion by motivating agentic, goal-directed action that mitigates the depleting effect of sleep deprivation. Second, we consider the role of control effort, hypothesizing that contemplation moderates the relationship between depletion and unethical behavior, such that depleted individuals are less likely to act unethically when contemplation is high. Three studies – one manipulating sleep deprivation in the lab and two using natural variation in sleep quality and quantity – suggest consistent support for our expanded model combining mediation and moderation, advancing self-regulatory research linking sleep deprivation to unethical behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-154
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - May 2018


  • Contemplation
  • Depletion
  • Power
  • Self-regulation
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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