Open Journal of Social Sciences
2013. Vol.1, No.6, 5-11
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 5
Feasibility and Efficacy of Willpower Strengthening Exercises
with University Students: A Randomised Control Pilot Study
Aileen M. Pidgeo n, Sophie L . Monteath
Department of Psychology, Bond University , Gold Coast, Australia
Received August 2013
This study examined the feasibility and efficacy of implementing intense brief willpower strengthening
exercises with university students. Thirty-nine university students were randomly allocated into one of
three groups: willpower strengthening exercise intervention groups, 4-7-8 Hands or postural adjustments,
or a control group. Participants assigned to the active intervention groups were required to practice the
relevant willpower strengthening exercise every hour, for six hours per day, over three days. The high
participation and compliance rates of participants in the two active intervention groups, along with posi-
tive feedback, supported the feasibility of the willpower strengthening exercises with university students.
Additionally, the 4-7-8 Hands and posture groups reported directional improvements in willpower com-
pared to the control group. Future research is recommended to evaluate the efficacy of willpower streng-
thening exercises over a longer time period to allow for more practice and effect time.
Keywords: Willpower Strengthening; Self-Control; Feasibility; Efficacy
Willpower gives us the strength to persevere (Baumeister &
Tierney, 2011). However, perseverance can be difficult to
maintain when the desired goal is challenging to achieve, as the
harder it becomes for an individual to continue to exercise self-
control, the higher the risk the individual’s willpower becomes
depleted (Baumeister, Heatherton, & Tice, 1994). Willpower is
the capacity an individual requires to exert self-control. Self-
control refers to overriding and altering dominant responses
achieved by controlling thoughts, feelings, and behaviours,
which involves higher-order cognitive processes overriding
lower-order cognitive processes (Baumeister et al., 1994). For
example, when an individual’s goal is to quit smoking, they
need the willpower to resist the desire to smoke. The higher-
order cognitive process is the goal to quit smoking and the
lower-order cognitive process is the desire to smoke. Self-con-
trol involves refraining from smoking and denying the lower-
order cognitive process, i.e. the desire to smoke for short-term
pleasure. When an individual’s lower-order cognitive process
dominates their higher-order cognitive process, such as engag-
ing in smoking behaviour, it is referred to as self-control failure
(Baumeister et al., 1994). Research suggests that self-control
failure can lead to negative consequences such as morbid obes-
ity, criminal behaviour, and drug and alcohol abuse (Oaten &
Cheng, 2006b).
Although willpower is a desirable trait, many individuals
acknowledge a lack of willpower strength. A recent survey
conducted by the American Psychological Association (2010),
revealed that Americans rated lack of willpower as the num-
ber-one reason for not achieving goals. Due to the important
role that willpower has in preventing negative consequences, as
well as the high demand for willpower strength, this present
study investigated the feasibility of implementing intense brief
willpower strengthening exercises with university students, and
evaluating the efficacy of these exercises on improving univer-
sity students’ willpower.
Baumeister et al.’s (1994) theory of willpower is comprised
of four domains: emotional control, thought control, perfor-
mance control, and impulse control. This theory is a focus of
the present study, as previous investigations into willpower
strength expressed through each domain has not been carried
out. Emotion control refers to the ability to regulate feelings
and mood, and typically involves avoiding a negative emotion
and desiring more pleasant emotions (Baumeister & Tierney,
2011). Thought control, refers to the ability to intentionally
focus attention on a train of thought (Baumeister et al., 1994).
Mindfulness, a skill for intentionally observing a train of
thought, involves the self-control of attention on immediate
experiences, such as thoughts, emotions, and body sensations,
in the present moment without judgement (Chiesa & Mali-
nowski, 2011). The third domain of willpower, performance
control, refers to persevering with a task when quitting seems
very appealing, or regulating performance to ensure efforts are
on target to achieve a desired goal. Finally, impulse control
refers to the ability to resist temptations to achieve high-order
desired goals (Baumeister & Tierney, 2011).
Previous research has found an association between high le-
vels of willpower and high levels of self-control success. How-
ever, as willpower energy is exerted to execute self-control, ego
depletion occurs. Ego depletion refers to the temporary dimi-
nished capacity for an individual to exercise self-control, due to
exhausted willpower, which is caused by prior execution of
self-control (Baumeister et al., 1998). Baumeister et al. (1998)
tested the hypothesis of ego depletion by conducting an expe-
rimental comparison study with college students, who were
randomised into two experimental groups: radish group and
cookies group. Participants in both groups were presented si-
multaneously with both radishes and cookies. Participants in
the radish group were instructed to only eat the radishes, while
Open Access
the participants in the cookies group were instructed to only eat
the cookies. Participants who ate the radishes instead of the
cookies were considered to have exercised self-control by re-
fraining from eating the more desirable food, cookies. After this
task, both groups were given exactly the same unsolvable puz-
zles to solve. Participants were not informed that the puzzles
were not solvable. The results indicated that compared to the
cookies group, the radish group, who restrained from eating
cookies, tended to exhibit higher ego depletion, as measured by
their efforts on the unsolvable puzzles. Participants in the radish
group tended to exert significantly less effort on the puzzles
compared to the cookies group. In Baumeister et al.’s study,
participants’ ego depletion was assessed by their performance
control. Those who quit sooner on the puzzle tasks were consi-
dered as having had the greatest ego depletion. However, a
limitation of this study was that ego depletion was measured
across only one of the four domains of willpower, and genera-
lised the results to rely on the unproven assumption that the
amount of willpower required to exercise self-control is the
same across all four domains. This present study addressed this
limitation by examining the effects of willpower strengthening
exercises across the four domains of willpower including, emo-
tional control, thought control, performance control, and im-
pulse control.
The results obtained from Baumeister et al.’s (1998) study
led to development of the limited resource model which hypo-
thesised that exerting self-control in one domain would deplete
the resource of willpower and increase the likelihood of self-
control failure in another domain. The limited resource model
also postulated that willpower operates similar to a muscle, i.e.
a muscle has finite strength and becomes fatigued when utilised
or exercised. When a muscle is fatigued it becomes globally
weak across all forms of physical exertion, not just in the spe-
cific exercise that caused fatigue, which is similar to ego deple-
tion. Resting for a period of time seems to replenish the mus-
cle’s strength, which is analogous to how the resource of will-
power is replenished.
Muraven, Baumeister, and Tice (1999) extended the theory
that willpower is analogous to a muscle, by hypothesising that
certain tasks can be used to strengthen willpower, similar to
how certain exercises can strengthen muscles. A muscle can be
strengthened, by increasing either baseline capacity, or stamina,
which results in a reduction to vulnerability to fatigue when
exerted. Muraven et al.’s (1999) randomised control study in-
vestigated the effects of a number of willpower strengthening
exercises on improving willpower in university students. These
exercises included repeated practice of postural adjustments,
striving to maintain a positive mood, and keeping a food diary.
The results suggested that the groups who practised postural
adjustments and recorded their food intake, compared to striv-
ing for positive moods and the control groups, were less vul-
nerable to ego depletion after being subjected to a self-control
task. Limitations of Muraven et al.’s study include ego deple-
tion being measured in terms of only one domain of willpower,
namely, performance control, and failure to standardise the re-
gularity in which participants carried out the willpower streng-
thening exercises. For example, participants in the posture con-
dition were instructed to correct their posture whenever they
remembered to do so. Muraven et al. did attempt to control for
compliance to the exercises, by requesting participants to com-
plete a monitoring diary. Participants who returned the diary at
the completion of the study were considered to have complied
with carrying out the willpower strengthening exercises. How-
ever, a limitation of this study was the assessment of com-
pliance, which was based on whether participants solely re-
turned their diary material, as opposed to whether the partici-
pants actually recorded carrying out the assigned exercises.
This current study addressed these limitations by standardising
the regularity of carrying out the willpower strengthening exer-
cises by providing participants with a bracelet set to vibrate on
the wrist once an hour, indicating to the participant when to
carry out the relevant willpower strengthening exercise. Addi-
tionally, assessment of compliance to complete the willpower
strengthening exercises was based on completion of the moni-
toring sheets provided.
This present randomised control pilot study aimed to eva-
luate the feasibility and efficacy of willpower strengthening
techniques to increase willpower in university students. Addi-
tionally, previous research by Oaten and Cheng (2006a) sug-
gests that university students’ experience of stress has the po-
tential to be alleviated through willpower strengthening.
This current study evaluated the effects of intensive brief
willpower strengthening exercises, carried out over a short
period of time, of three days. Muraven et al. (1999) utilised
willpower strengthening interventions over a two-week period,
which resulted in significant improvements in willpower
strength. The rationale for utilising an intensive, short-term
approach to strengthening willpower was to increase both re-
cruitment and compliance to complete the exercises as in-
structed, as well as to reduce attrition rates from the study due
to the high work-load and time constraints placed on students
(Hughes, 2005).
The intensive brief willpower strengthening exercises in-
cluded regular standardised postural adjustments and a mind-
fulness-based exercise. Past research has indicated that mind-
fulness meditation can decrease ego-depletion (Friese, Messner,
& Schaffner, 2012). For example, Friese et al.’s (2012) study
investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on reple-
nishing willpower with middle-aged individuals who completed
a three-day introductory mindfulness meditation seminar. The
results indicated that participants who utilised their mindfulness
skills in situations demanding self-control, they were less vul-
nerable to ego depletion. However, a limitation of this study
was that mindfulness skills were developed through meditation
practice and therefore requires considerable investment of ef-
fort and time, which may reduce the feasibility to utilise with a
university student population (Segal, Williams, & Teasdale,
2002). Therefore, this current study addressed this limitation by
evaluating the utility of a brief practical mindfulness-based
exercise to strengthen willpower.
The effect of willpower strengthening exercises on improv-
ing willpower in this current study was measured in terms of
improvements across Baumeister et al.’s (1994) four compo-
nents of willpower including, emotional control, thought con-
trol, performance control, and impulse control. Perceived stress
and distress tolerance were used to assess control of emotions.
Participants’ mindfulness was assessed to evaluate levels of
thought control. As previously explained, mindfulness involves
regulation of reactions to thoughts, and mindfulness-based ex-
ercises have been shown to improve self-control (Friese et al.,
2012). However, further investigation is required to evaluate
the efficacy of willpower strengthening exercises on increasing
levels of mindfulness, and hence control over reactions to
thoughts. This current study aimed to evaluate this interaction.
Open Access
Performance control was assessed using self-reported per-
ceptions of performance control. Past research has typically
utilised practical means to assess performance control by test-
ing participants’ vulnerability to underregulation or quitting
tasks prematurely (Murvaen et al., 1999; Oaten & Cheng,
2006a, 2006b). However, failure to exert performance control
can be either due to underregulation or misregulation, which
involves not regulating efforts towards an intended goal, there-
fore this study utilised a self-report measure as a more compre-
hensive assessment to include both underregulation and misre-
gulation (Baumeister et al., 1994).
Finally, the domain of willpower, impulse control, was as-
sessed in this present study through an iPad version of the
Stroop colour-word task, called The Stroop Effect (Bebebe Co.,
2011). This iPad application was derived from the fundamental
principles of Sroop’s (1935) original test. The task is a test of
impulse control, as it requires individuals to actively override
the dominant, impulsive response, to read the word stimulus,
and substitute it with the secondary response of identifying the
colour of the word (Muraven & Baumeister, 2000). The iPad
Stroop task was administered twice in each session. During
each session, in between the two testings, participants were
asked to exercise thought control by not thinking of a white
bear. This thought suppression task draws on the principles
from Wegner, Schneider, Carter, and White’s (1987) initial
studies into controlling thoughts of not thinking of a white bear.
If the thought suppression task required participants to utilise
their willpower and exhibit thought control, it was expected
participants would perform worse on the second Stroop task,
compared to the first, due to ego depletion. This measure of
impulse control has been used and validated in other self-con-
trol studies (Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, & Oaten, 2006).
Therefore a Stroop task coupled with a thought suppression
task was selected to measure impulse control. However, Stroop
tasks are often criticised as not only assessing impulse control
but also measure a participant’s practice effects (Davidson,
Zacks, & Williams, 2003). Practice effects become more pro-
nounced the longer participants practice the test (Davidson et
al., 2003). The version of the Stroop test used in this study was
selected as it is brief. Additionally the Stroop version iPad ap-
plication provided an innovative and technologically advanced
dimension to the study.
On the basis of the research presented it was hypothesised
that the utilisation of intense brief willpower strengthening
exercises with university students would be feasible and com-
pared to the control group, the willpower strengthening exercise
groups would show significant improvements in willpower
strength across all four domains.
A total of 39 university students participated in this study.
Participants were aged from 17 to 50 years (M = 24.46, SD =
9.36). The sample was comprised of 36 females (92%) and
three males (8%).
Emotion control was measured using two self-report inven-
Perceived Stress Scale-10 (PSS-10; Cohen & Williamson,
1988) is a 10-item, self-report scale designed to measure an
individual’s appraisal of life situations as stressful. The items
are typically general in nature, as opposed to focusing on spe-
cific events (e.g., “In the last month, how often have you felt
nervous and ‘stressed?”). Pa rticipants wer e asked to rate items
on a 5-point Lickert scale, ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (always).
Higher scores indicate greater perceived stress, though there are
no cut-off scores. Chronbach’s alpha has found to have ranged
from .74 to .91 and test-retest ranged from .72 to .90 (Lee,
Distress Tolerance Scale (DTS; Simons & Gaher, 2005) is a
15-item, self-report scale that assesses individuals’ appraisal of
their ability to tolerate emotional distress. The scale has a single,
second-order, general distress tolerance factor and four first-
order factors. Participants were asked to rate each item (e.g.,
“Feeling distressed or upset is unbearable to me.”) on a 5-point
Lickert scale, ranging from 1 (Strongly agree) to 5 (Strongly
disagree). Higher scores indicate higher distress tolerance,
though there are no cut-off scores. Chronbach’s alpha was
strong and reported at .89 (Cougle et al., 2012), and test-retest
reliability was reported at .61 (Simons & Gaher, 2005).
Thought control was measured using one self-report inven-
Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown
& Ryan, 2003) is a 15-item, self-report inventory, designed to
assess dispositional mindfulness in individuals of an unspeci-
fied age group. Participants are asked to indicate how frequent-
ly they experience each item (e.g., “I find myself doing things
without paying attention.”). Frequency was rated on a 6-point
Lickert scale, ranging from 1 (almost always) to 6 (almost nev-
er). Higher scores indicate greater mindfulness. The MAAS has
a moderate to high degree of internal consistency, with a re-
ported Chonbach alpha of .82, and test-retest reliability of .81
(Brown & Ryan, 2003).
Performance control was measured using one self-report
Brief Self-Control Scale (BSCS: Tangney et al., 2004) de-
veloped to assess behavioural self-control in individuals, is a
13-item, five-factor, self-report questionnaire. All factors tend
to reflect the specific domain of willpower, performance con-
trol (de Ridder, Lensvelt-Mulders, Finkernauer, Stok, & Bau-
meister, 2012). Items (e.g., “I am lazy”) were rated on a 5-point
Likert scale, ranging from 1 (not at all like me) to 5 (very much
like me). Higher scores indicate stronger self-control, though
there are no cut-off scores. The BSCS has a high degree of
internal consistency with a reported Chonbach alpha at .85 and
test-rete s t reliability at .87.
Impulse control was measured using an iPad version of the
Stroop colour-word task (Stroop, 1935), The Stroop Effect
(Bebebe Co., 2011). Individuals were asked to identify the ink
colour of a word and ignore the content of the word. Partici-
pants responded by tapping, with their finger, on one of these
answers presented at the bottom of the screen. If a participant
answered correctly, a new critical stimulus appeared. If a par-
ticipant answered incorrectly, the screen momentarily flashed
red and the participant attempted to respond again. Participants
had 30 seconds to identify the ink colour of as many words as
possible. A participant’s total score was the sum of the number
of correct answers minus the number of incorrect answers.
The impulse control task was administered twice during one
session, and in between completing the two testings, partici-
pants completed a thought suppression task (Wegner et al.,
Open Access
1987). The thought suppression task involved participants
writing their current thoughts for five minutes, while not think-
ing of a white bear. The difference in total scores of the Stroop
task, before and after the thought suppression task, was as-
sessed in each session, to measure the change due to ego deple-
Participants were randomly allocated into one of three condi-
tions (Control, Posture, and 4-7-8 Hands). Randomisation in-
volved a computer generated randomisation number sequence,
which randomly allocated participants at the time of recruit-
ment. The Posture and 4-7-8 Hands groups were active inter-
vention groups and required to carry out relevant willpower
strengthening exercises. Participants in the Posture group were
instructed to adjust their posture, while participants in the 4-7-8
Hands group were requested to carry out a brief mindful-
ness-based technique, 4-7-8 Hands (Institute for Mindfulness
Studies, 2011), which is a breathing and hand movement task.
Participants were tested in two laboratory sessions, pre-test
and post-test, spaced three days apart. Figure 1 depicts the
procedures for pre-test, which comprised of six phases. The
first five phases were generic for all participants, in which ran-
dom allocation to a group type and testing of all dependent
variables occurred. The sixth phase was segregated by group
allocation. The Control group was instructed to leave the room
while the 4-7-8 Hands and Posture groups watched relevant
brief video tutorials. The instructional videos were created by
the researchers and provided verbal instructions with visual
demonstrations, of the respective willpower strengthening ex-
ercises. Individuals listened to the video instructions on sepa-
rate computer screens, with headphones, to ensure they only
heard and saw the relevant instructions. The video tutorials
ensured standardised protocols of the procedures of how to
implement the willpower strengthening exercises. Additionally,
participants were given an information sheet on their respective
willpower strengthening exercise. The different modes of deli-
very of instructions were designed to meet a breadth of differ-
ent participants’ learning styles, to increase understanding,
comprehension, and mastery of the relevant willpower streng-
thening exercise, as well as to enhance compliance to carrying
out the exercises.
During the three days between testing sessions, the two ex-
perimental groups, Posture and 4-7-8 Hands, were instructed to
wear a Meaning to Pause® bracelet (Graham & Irish, 2010) for
six hours a day. Meaning to Pause® bracelets are commercially
bought, inexpensive devices that give a gentle and private vi-
bration once an hour. They were used to standardise how often
participants practiced the willpower strengthening exercises.
Once an hour the bracelet vibrated, signalling participants to
carry out the relevant willpower strengthening exercise. Partic-
ipants were instructed to keep a record of compliance of carry-
ing out the willpower strengthening exercise by completing a
self-monitoring form. To enhance compliance, 4-7-8 Hands and
Posture Groups were sent standardised reminder text messages
each morning, at 9 am, to wear their bracelets and carry out
their exercises, as well as thanking them for participating in the
After three days, all participants returned for post-test. This
session consisted of the identical four phases of testing that
were administered in the first laboratory session (see Figure 2).
Figure 1.
Six phases of testing at pre-test. The sizes of the figures bear no weight or reflection on the type of task ad-
ministered. They are only for visual effect.
Figure 2.
Four phases of testin g at post-test. Th e sizes of the figu res bear no weig ht or reflection on th e
type of task administered. They are only for visual effect.
Control Group:
Leave laboratory
(n = 13)
4-7 -8 Hands
Group: Watched
video tutorial
(n = 13)
Posture Group:
Watched video
(n = 13)
Four Online
into groups
Open Access
To control for the potential confounding variable of exam
stress, participants were tested during the beginning and middle
of university semesters.
The study was a 3 (group type: Control, 4-7-8, and Posture)
× 2 (time: pre-test and post-test) mixed design. Participants
were randomly allocated to either the Control group, or an in-
tervention group, either 4-7-8 Hands or Posture. The overarch-
ing dependent variables were: emotion control, measured by
PSS and DTS, thought control, measured by MAAS, perfor-
mance control, measured by BSCS, and impulse control, meas-
ured by Stroop.
Prior to analysis the data was screened and assumptions were
met. Each of the 39 participants in this study was tested at pre-
test and post-test. Participants in the two intervention groups
reported high compliance performing the willpower streng-
thening exercises over the three days. All participants in the
intervention groups returned completed monitoring forms,
which showed adherence to performing the willpower streng-
thening exercises 80% - 100% of the time. The high com-
pliance and adherence rates support the hypothesis that the
willpower strengthening exercises were feasible for university
A MANOVA indicated a nonsignificant interaction effect of
group type by time, Wilks’s Λ = .78, F(10, 64) = .83, p = .600,
η2 = .12, indicating that the five variables, BSCS, PSS, DTS,
MAAS, and Stroop, did not significantly vary from pre-test to
post-test, as a function of the type of group participants were
allocated to. Likewise, the results indicated a nonsignificant
main effect of group type, Wilks’s Λ = .85, F(10, 64) = .56, p
= .837, η2 = .081, suggesting that there were no significant va-
riances in the dependent variables, as a function of the type of
group participants were allocated to. These results do not sup-
port the hypothesis that the willpower strengthening exercises
would lead to improvements in willpower strength. However,
although the results were nonsignificant, the directional change
in means did support the hypothesis, as outlined in Table 1.
Participants in the active intervention groups tended to improve
on BSCS, PSS, DTS, and MAAS, compared to the control
The results indicated a significant main effect of time,
Wilks’s Λ = .71, F(5, 32) = 2.60, p = .044, η2 = .29. Univariate
analysis, evaluating sphericity assumed, was conducted to fol-
low up on this main effect. Results revealed a significant main
effect across time for DTS (F(1, 36) = 5.34, p = .027, partial η2
= .13, observed power = .61) and Stroop (F(1, 36) = 8.96, p
= .005, partial η2 = .20, observed power = .83). The significant
effect across time for Stroop implied that the mean of Stroop
scores at pre-test (M = 4.08, SD = 3.50) were significantly
higher than the mean of Stroop scores at post-test (M = 1.87,
SD = 3.21, t(38) = 3.062, p = .002). This was not as expected,
as it was hypothesised that repeated practice of willpower
strengthening exercises would improve impulse control. Addi-
tionally, the positive means suggest that scores in the second
administration of the Stroop test in each session were higher
after completing the thought suppression task. This was also
not as expected, as it was hypothesised that participants would
not perform as well on the Stroop test after exerting self-control
in the thought suppression task. However, although participants
appeared to improve more in their performance on the Stroop at
pre-test than at post-test, the baseline scores did significantly
improve from pre-test (M = 19.51, SD = 5.19) to post-test (M =
24.72, SD = 4.24, t(38) = 7.67, p < .01). Therefore, although
participants showed greater improvements in their two Stroop
scores at pre-test, their baseline Stroop scores were higher at
Qualitative feedback was obtained from the participants re-
garding the feasibility of implementing the willpower streng-
thening exercises with university students. Overall, participants
reported positive comments about the postural adjustment tech-
niques, for example, “I found pausing to adjust my posture
improved my mood”. Participants’ feedback regarding practic-
ing the 4-7-8 Hands exercise was conflicting. Positive com-
ments included, “I found it calmed me down”, and “it made me
think about my breathing”, while more constructive criticism
included, “I did not like practicing the exercise when in class,
as I found opening and closing my hands, not very subtle.” The
feedback provides support for the hypothesis that the willpower
strengthening exercises were able to be carried out by universi-
ty students’ despite a busy schedule.
The aim of this present study was to evaluate the feasibility
and efficacy of intense brief willpower strengthening exercises
with university students. To the researchers’ knowledge this is
Table 1.
Means and standard deviations of dependent variables for each group type.
Controla 4-7-8 Handsa Posturea
T1 T2 T1 T2 T1 T2
BSCS 39.46 9.77 39.31 10.43 41.23 7.42 41.92 7.73 39.62 8.78 41.46 7.46
PSS 16.15 8.59 17.23 7.79 16.85 9.37 15.39 7.58 18.39 5.95 17.39 7.27
DTS 3.33 .62 3.37 .79 3.01 1.11 3.09 1.09 3.02 .69 3.32 .63
MAAS 3.69 1.07 3.68 1.22 3.49 .77 3.54 .73 3.46 .90 3.51 .90
Stroop 3.92 4.41 2.00 2.74 4.46 3.38 1.69 3.59 3.85 2.23 1.92 3.48
Note: T1 = Pre-test; T2 = Post-test; BSCS = Brief Self-Control Scale; PSS = Perceived Stress Scale; DTS = Distress Tolerance Scale; MAAS = Mindfulness Attention
Awareness Scale; Stroop = first testing Stroop score minus sec ond testing Stroo p score. an = 13.
Open Access
the first study evaluating willpower strengthening exercises
over a three-day period as well as their effect across the four
domains of willpower. The first hypothesis predicted that the
willpower strengthening exercises would be feasible for univer-
sity students to incorporate into their busy work schedules.
University students have competing demands on their time,
with academic obligations, such as assignments, studying for
exams, and attending lectures, as well as busy social lives that
consist of regular use of mobile phones, text messaging, and
Facebook (Cotton, Dollard, & de Jonge, 2002; Hanson, Drum-
heller, Mallard, McKee, & Schlegel, 2013). Regardless of these
potential time demands, the university students who partici-
pated in this study reported performing the willpower streng-
thening exercises 80% - 100% of the time. This high com-
pliance rate is encouraging and supports feasibility of imple-
menting willpower strengthening exercises with university stu-
dents. Additionally, the positive feedback received from the
participants about their experiences with the exercises was en-
couraging. The results provided promising preliminary support
for this first hypothesis.
The second hypothesis predicted that compared to a control
group, the two willpower strengthening groups, namely Posture
and 4-7-8 Hands, would report significant improvements in
willpower across all the four domains of willpower. The results
did not provide significant statistics to support this hypothesis,
however, mean directional changes between the groups indi-
cates support. Therefore, it could be speculated that the short
period of time may not have been sufficient to allow for ade-
quate improvements in willpower strength, which compared to
Muraven et al.’s (1999) study which found significant improve-
ments in willpower when utilising a longer two-week interven-
tion period. This supports the supposition that willpower re-
quires an adequate duration of strengthening to become signifi-
cantly stronger (Muraven et al., 1999). Future research should
consider replication of this study, allowing for a longer period
of time to practice the willpower strengthening exercises.
The results suggested significant differences in means, across
all three groups, between pre-test and post-test. All participants
reported a significant improvement in distress tolerance across
time (p = .0145). The overall improvement in DTS may be due
to when in the week testing was conducted. Students were
tested at pre-test at the beginning of the week and post-test
towards the end of the week. Due to motivation, or the closer
positive outlook of the weekend, students in general may have
felt they were in a better state to tolerate distress than they were
at the beginning of the week. In assessing distress tolerance,
future research should consider varying when testing of pre-test
and post-test takes place. For example, alternating between
testing each session at both ends of the week may reduce the
impact of potential confounding factors.
The results found that all groups significantly improved on
their Stroop test performance across time (p = .002). This was
not expected. Justification for all groups to report significant
improvements is likely to be due to practice effects, coupled
with the short duration of the Stroop test. Assessing self-control
in a brief and practical test demands willpower energy to be
consumed over a small period of time, reducing its ability to
differentiate between individuals. Longer versions assessing the
Stroop effect, which have been used in past studies, have suc-
cessfully measured impulse control, as well as contrast groups
of individuals with high impulse control with those with low
impulse control (Oaten & Cheng, 2006a). The conflicting re-
sults found in this study leads to the implication that, potential-
ly, a longer version is more effective at assessing willpower
strength. This is because a longer version requires the greatest
amount of stamina willpower energy over time. Those with
stronger willpower are expected to have the stamina to perform
well, while those with weaker willpower are expected to be-
come fatigued quicker and perform more poorly. It is recom-
mended that future research use a longer version of the Stroop
test to better differentiate individuals with weak and strong
willpower resource.
Generalisability of the findings was limited due to the female
gender bias of the sample and homogenous sample of universi-
ty students. Despite nonsignificant results, which do not offer
support for the efficacy of the interventions, this pilot study has
many strengths. To the researchers’ knowledge, this was the
first study to evaluate intensive willpower strengthening strate-
gies over a brief three-day period. The design, a randomised
control pilot trial, adds to the rigour and robustness of the study.
In addition, this study utilised advanced technology through the
use of the iPad application and video tutorials, which were
especially created for this study by the researchers. Additional-
ly, this study addressed limitations in previous research, such as
measuring willpower strength across all four domains and hav-
ing protocols for the implementation of the interventions, such
as using Meaning to Pause® bracelets. These bracelets were
another form of innovative technology that had not been pre-
viously used in this field of research. Finally, the study had 80% -
100% compliance rates as well as no attrition, which may have
been due to the short time frame. These rates may be attributa-
ble, in part, to the brief, encouraging reminder text messages
participants received each morning. The text messages were
aimed at keeping participants engaged in the study. Additional-
ly, the relatively short duration of the study meant participants
did not need to spend a considerable amount of time carrying
out the willpower strengthening exercises. These strengths
support the recommendation that future research should repli-
cate this study, extending the time period to practice the will-
power strengthening exercises.
The benefits of developing willpower strengthening exercises
for university students’ willpower are important due to the as-
sociation with improved academic performance, reductions in
stress and healthier living habits (de Ridder et al., 2012; Oaten
& Cheng, 2006a). Therefore, further investigations into the fea-
sibility and efficacy of willpower strengthening exercises, that
students will readily adhere to, has the potential to pave the way
to greater positive outcomes for students.
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