Journal of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 81-93

First online:

Self-control and its relation to emotions and psychobiology: evidence from a Day Reconstruction Method study

  • M. DalyAffiliated withStirling Management School, Stirling University Email author 
  • , R. F. BaumeisterAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Florida State University
  • , L. DelaneyAffiliated withStirling Management School, Stirling UniversityUniversity College Dublin Geary Institute, University College Dublin
  • , M. MacLachlanAffiliated withCentre for Global Health, Trinity College DublinSchool of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin

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This study aimed to ascertain whether self-control predicts heart rate, heart rate variability, and the cortisol slope, and to determine whether health behaviors and affect patterns mediate these relationships. A sample of 198 adults completed the Self-Control Scale (Tangney in J Pers 72:271–322, 2004), and reported their exercise levels, and cigarette and alcohol use. Participants provided a complete account of their emotional experiences over a full day, along with morning and evening salivary cortisol samples and a continuous measure of cardiovascular activity on the same day. High trait self-control predicted low resting heart rate, high heart rate variability, and a steep cortisol slope. Those with high self-control displayed stable emotional patterns which explained the link between self-control and the cortisol slope. The self-controlled smoked less and this explained their low heart rates. The capacity to sustain stable patterns of affect across diverse contexts may be an important pathway through which self-control relates to psychophysiological functioning and potentially health.


Personality Self-control Cortisol Heart rate Heart rate variability Affect variability Day Reconstruction Method