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This experiment was critical in that the researchers synthesized ideas proposed by prior studies that had suggested evidence for a strength model of willpower.

Quote from "Early experimental evidence" in Ego_depletion of Wikipedia.

I feel quite confused about the meaning of this sentence. I hope to get some detailed explanations. Thanks!

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A clumsy restatement would be

This experiment was critical, and the reason it was critical was that the researchers synthesized ideas ...

"In that" introduces an explanation for the previous word or phrase, particularly if the word or phrase was true only in a narrow sense.

The verdict was irrelevant, in that the defendant had died. It was, however, a vindication for the victim.

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According to The Free Dictionary, in that is an idiom and it means for the reason that, because. Consequently, your sentence can be understood as:

This experiment was critical because [for the reason that] the researchers synthesized ideas proposed by prior studies that had suggested evidence for a strength model of willpower.

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"in that", "that" means "This experiment". I think it's called

that subordinate clause

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