Reconceptualizing Ego Depletion as Transient Cognitive Fatigue

Posted: 26 Mar 2021 Last revised: 22 Oct 2021

See all articles by Patrick J. Hurley

Patrick J. Hurley

Northeastern University - Accounting Group

Date Written: March 3, 2021


Ego depletion is embroiled in a crisis that has cast doubts over the legitimacy of the phenomenon itself and its theoretical explanation. I first summarize and analyze the strength model of self- control as cohesive theoretical explanations of the phenomenon and highlight the difficulties it creates for depletion researchers. I conclude that the strength model is not the best theoretical explanation for the depletion phenomenon. Rather, I propose reconceptualizing the ego depletion effect as transient cognitive fatigue (TCF). To support this theoretical shift, I highlight how both the classic and disparate findings in the depletion literature cleanly map into the literature on cognitive fatigue, and how considering depletion to be TCF accommodates existing theoretical alternatives to the strength model.

Keywords: self-regulation, self-control, ego depletion, motivation, transient cognitive fatigue, mental fatigue

Suggested Citation

Hurley, Patrick J., Reconceptualizing Ego Depletion as Transient Cognitive Fatigue (March 3, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Patrick J. Hurley (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - Accounting Group ( email )

360 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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