Theories of willpower affect sustained learning

Eric M. Miller, Gregory M. Walton, Carol S. Dweck, Veronika Job, Kali H. Trzesniewski, Samuel M. McClure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Building cognitive abilities often requires sustained engagement with effortful tasks. We demonstrate that beliefs about willpower-whether willpower is viewed as a limited or non-limited resource-impact sustained learning on a strenuous mental task. As predicted, beliefs about willpower did not affect accuracy or improvement during the initial phases of learning; however, participants who were led to view willpower as non-limited showed greater sustained learning over the full duration of the task. These findings highlight the interactive nature of motivational and cognitive processes: motivational factors can substantially affect people's ability to recruit their cognitive resources to sustain learning over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere38680
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 22 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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