Ego depletion decreases trust in economic decision making

Sarah E. Ainsworth, Roy F. Baumeister, Dan Ariely, Kathleen D. Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Three experiments tested the effects of ego depletion on economic decision making. Participants completed a task either requiring self-control or not. Then participants learned about the trust game, in which senders are given an initial allocation of $10 to split between themselves and another person, the receiver. The receiver receives triple the amount given and can send any, all, or none of the tripled money back to the sender. Participants were assigned the role of the sender and decided how to split the initial allocation. Giving less money, and therefore not trusting the receiver, is the safe, less risky response. Participants who had exerted self-control and were depleted gave the receiver less money than those in the non-depletion condition (Experiment 1). This effect was replicated and moderated in two additional experiments. Depletion again led to lower amounts given (less trust), but primarily among participants who were told they would never meet the receiver (Experiment 2) or who were given no information about how similar they were to the receiver (Experiment 3). Amounts given did not differ for depleted and non-depleted participants who either expected to meet the receiver (Experiment 2) or were led to believe that they were very similar to the receiver (Experiment 3). Decreased trust among depleted participants was strongest among neurotics. These results imply that self-control facilitates behavioral trust, especially when no other cues signal decreased social risk in trusting, such as if an actual or possible relationship with the receiver were suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-49
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant RL1AA017541 awarded to the second author. We are grateful to Donald Beach, Jessica Borushok, Megan Geary, Alyssa Goldman, Alexandra Kraus, Chris McCarthy, Ali McCully, Alanna O’Brien, Alyssa Potter, Ashley Satkunas, and Shannon Steuart for their assistance in conducting this research.


  • Cooperation
  • Ego depletion
  • Self-control
  • Trust


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