Visual attention and willpower: Shared resources between ego depletion and multiple-object tracking?
63.307, Wednesday, May 15, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Royal Ballroom 6-8
Aysu Suben1, Brian Scholl1; 1Department of Psychology, Yale University
Vision science and social psychology each often appeal to a capacity-limited resource that involves a sense of mental effort: visual selective attention, and willpower. How do they relate? Might they reflect the same underlying resource, applied in very different contexts? Across several experiments, we explored the relationship between sustained attention (realized via multiple-object tracking; MOT) and willpower (realized in common manipulations and measures of ego depletion). In an initial set of experiments, Depletion subjects first wrote a story about a zoo trip, while avoiding thoughts about a white bear. They then followed a complex set of rules about how and when they should cross out instances of the letter 'e' in a text. Control subjects wrote about a zoo trip without extra constraints, and then simply crossed out each instance of the letter 'e' on a page, without complex rules. Half of the subjects from each group subsequently attempted to solve an impossible figure-tracing task. The other half completed a standard MOT task keeping track of a subset of identical-looking but independently-moving objects for 10 s. Depletion subjects attempted to complete the figure-tracing task for less time than Control subjects (a standard ego-depletion effect). Depletion subjects also performed worse on MOT relative to Control subjects. We then explored whether MOT (using various tracking loads and durations) influenced subjects' subsequent figure-tracing persistence. It did not even for relatively demanding varieties of MOT. These results (and those testing other aspects of attention) suggest that MOT may share resources with willpower, but in an asymmetric way: ego-depletion uses up resources that are needed for successful MOT, but MOT does not use up resources that are required for a type of self control. These and other results show how vision science may play a role in social psychology, and vice versa.