The Glucose Model of Mediation: Physiological Bases of Willpower as Important Explanations for Common Mediation Behavior is a new article I co-authored with psychology professor Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and two excellent practicing lawyers, Scott Simpson and Daniel Weber of Simpson, McMahan, Glick & Burford
Success in life requires the ability to resist urges and control behavior. This ability is commonly called “willpower,” the capacity to overcome impulses and engage in conscious acts of self-control. Social psychologists believe willpower is a finite resource dependent on physiological bases including glucose (from food and drink), sleep and other forms of rest, and the absence of stress. In short, people who are hungry, exhausted, or highly stressed tend to have less willpower than those who are well-fed, well-rested, and relatively stress-free. In addition, a person who exerts self-control (uses willpower) tends to reduce temporarily the amount of willpower remaining, so decision-making and other aspects of self-control are weakened during this depleted state. Restoring willpower (and thus restoring decision-making abilities) can often be achieved by physiological replenishment, such as: ingesting glucose, sleep (and other forms of rest) and breaks from stress.
The physiological bases of willpower combine with the importance of deadlines to offer a compelling explanation for why so many mediations follow a predictable pattern. Most significantly, the physiological bases of willpower go a long way to explaining why many mediations scheduled for a single day begin with stalwart opening positions and end with a signed settlement agreement late in the day. This Article provides a physiological explanation of typical mediation behavior and shows that an awareness of physiology reveals ethical issues with current mediation practice. Part I of this Article discusses the science, specifically the Strength and Glucose Models of Self-Control and their applications across studies of medicine, morality and negotiation. Part II outlines the course of a typical daylong mediation and shows the extent to which common mediation behavior is well-explained by the physiology of willpower when people are operating under deadlines. Part III examines the significance of the Glucose Model of Mediation by identifying ethical issues relating to willpower depletion in mediation.
Sept. 2016: Recent scholarship questions the willpower depletion (ego depletion) theory. Hat Tip to University of Tennessee Law Professor Becky Jacobs for pointing this out.