After-effects of self-control: The reward responsivity hypothesis

  • Nicholas J. KelleyEmail author
  • Anna J. Finley
  • Brandon J. Schmeichel
Special Issue/Reward Systems, Cognition,and Emotion


Exercising self-control can be phenomenologically aversive. Insofar as individuals strive to maintain a positive emotional state, one consequence of exercising self-control may thus be a temporarily tuning toward or amplification of reward-related impulses (perhaps arising to countermand the aversive feelings that stem from self-control). Reward-relevant after-effects are relatively underappreciated in self-control research. In the current paper, we review theory and research pertaining to the idea that exercising self-control increases reward responsivity. First, we review theoretical models of self-control focusing on the relationship between control systems and reward systems. Second, we review behavioral studies regarding the effects of exercising self-control on subsequent reactivity to food, money, drugs, and positive emotional images. Third, we review findings from functional neuroimaging and electroencephalographic research pertaining to the reward responsivity hypothesis. We then call for additional research to integrate how, when, and under what circumstances self-control exertion influences reward processing. Such an endeavor will help to advance research and theory on self-control by offering a more precise characterization of the dynamic interactions between control systems and reward systems.


Self-control Ego depletion Mental effort Self-regulation Reward Positive affect 



Preparation of this manuscript was supported by National Institute of Health (NIH) grant T32 NS047987 to NJK.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas J. Kelley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anna J. Finley
    • 2
  • Brandon J. Schmeichel
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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