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What is self control?
The ability to resist short term gratification, or counteract situational influences on behaviour, in pursuit of longer-term goals
What is the resource-strenght model?
- Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996
- Self control is like a muscle, and exercising it uses up internal resources and it eventually becomes fatigued
- This fatigue is known as ego depletion
What is ego depletion?
- The process of using up mental reserves of willpower and fatiguing the ability
- People who initially resisted the temptation of chocolates were less able to persist in a frustrating puzzle task (Baumeister et al, 1998)
- This suggests that they experienced ego depletion after fatiguing their willpower
What causes ego depletion?
- The metabolising of carbohydrates- Galliot et al (2007)
- Found that participants blood sugar levels went down after being asked to complete a self control task (Stroop test)
- Low blood sugar levels after one task predicted poor performance on further tasks of self control
- Self control impairments from one task onto the next were eliminated by drinking a high sugar content drink
Does glucose really affect willpower?
- No- Molden et al (2012)
- Had blood sugar levels taken before doing a Perceptual vigilance task requiring high or low levels of self control, then took the measures again and finally an anagram task to measures continued levels of self control
- Higher levels of self control did not lead to greater drops in blood sugar level
- Also had P's grip a wad of paper above their heads to reach a baseline level of self control fatigue then the same vigilance task as in the previous experiment before swilling their mouths with either sugar or control water and finally completing another hand grip task
- There was less persistence in high vigilant conditions when sugar was not swilled but not for the sugar swilling condition
- Swilling the sugar solution did not raise glucose levels
What is the motivational account of self control?
- Molden et al (2012)
- It has been found that Carbohydrate mouth rinses activate dopaminergic pathways in the striatum—a region of the brain associated with responses to rewards (Kringelbach, 2004) whereas artificially sweetened noncarbohydrate mouth rinses do not (Chambers et al., 2009)
- Suggests that the increase in self control was not due to restocking of energy, but a greater motivation to gain a reward
What are the lifelong effects of self control?
- Moffit, Poulton & Caspi (2013)
- 1000 students studied from birth to 40
- Lower levels of self control shown in childhood tests predicted:
- Higher risk of health problems such as STDs,
- Health status (STDs, cholesterol, hypertension, obesity, lung damage)
- Substance dependence
- Income, saving habits, credit ratings, social welfare dependence (all early warning signs for later-life poverty)
- Criminal convictions: 80% of the study cohort who had been incarcerated (5% of the total) came from the two lowest quintiles of childhood self-control.
- Quality of parent-child interaction (poor self- control cohort turned out to be the least skilled parents)
- Marital success
- Life satisfaction
- Of participants in the bottom 5th of self-control scorers, 22% attempted or died by suicide by age 38 compared to only 7% in the top 5th of self-control scorers. This 7% could be accounted for by an excess of control, 1/5 of Duke students have an eating disorder and 20% of Harvard graduates have self harmed
What are the biological differences in self control?
- Beck (2009)
- When faced with tempting stimuli, compared to individuals high in self-control, those with low self-control show less activation of the prefrontal cortex and more activation of the ventral striatum
- This has implications for things such as benefits, perhaps some people are dependent because they have an underlying lack of capacity for self control
- At a neurological level, people with high self control display completely different brain responses; this could be argued to be a form of handicap
What are the environmental influences on self control?
- Unstable, unpredictable home environment
- Belief in/trust in others
- Just world beliefs: ‘no matter what I do my outcomes will be bad’
- This can be intervened if children in primary school are taught the importance of self control and the value of saving resources
- People who watch Sesame street interventions have been found to perform better in school
How can we improve childhood self control?
- Self-control is a fairly malleable trait (only half as stable as IQ)
- Factors increasing people’s self-control rank:
- Working as a supervisor responsible for subordinate employees
- High school jobs and activities involving supervision as a social role can improve the self control of children by changing their self perception, ‘I am responsible, trusted and capable of self control’
- Self-control interventions (earlier in life, the better)
- Peer groups for children have descriptive norms that affect how well self control is developed
- When p's were asked to talk to themselves when lacking self control to motivate themselves, performance in attentional and self control tasks improved (Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1971)