A Cookie or a Radish

Is willpower a limited resource? How can so many scientists have been so wrong?

Lots of psychological studies have said so, now the biggest study of all has been called into question. 20 years ago, student volunteers were given fresh-baked cookies to smell while they worked on a project. One group was given the chance to eat the cookies while they worked; another group had to smell the cookies but could only eat radishes. Famously, the radish eaters lasted only 8 minutes on the project before giving up, but the cookie eaters lasted 18 minutes. The researchers concluded that smelling delicious cookies and not being able to eat them depleted willpower. This had a big effect on our understanding of the power of advertising or even why tired, stressed and overworked people eat more and gain more weight. Now, new research is saying it’s not so simple. Willpower can go down but we don’t always know when or why. Fascinating stuff.

photo: Lisa Larson-Walker