Frontiers in Psychology
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Considerable research on category learning has suggested that many cognitive and environmental factors can have a differential effect on the learning of rule-defined (RD) categories as opposed to the learning of non-rule-defined (NRD) categories. Prior research has also suggested that ego depletion can temporarily reduce the capacity for executive functioning and cognitive flexibility. The present study examined whether temporarily reducing participants' executive functioning via a resource depletion manipulation would differentially impact RD and NRD category learning. Participants were either asked to write a story with no restrictions (the control condition), or without using two common letters (the ego depletion condition). Participants were then asked to learn either a set of RD categories or a set of NRD categories. Resource depleted participants performed more poorly than controls on the RD task, but did not differ from controls on the NRD task, suggesting that self regulatory resources are required for successful RD category learning. These results lend support to multiple systems theories and clarify the role of self-regulatory resources within this theory.