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Lay Theories of Self-control

  • Veronika Job
  • Gregory M. Walton
Chapter

Abstract

Why do people sometimes fail to regulate their behavior effectively to accomplish their goals? How can they do better? This chapter explores the role of prominent beliefs in society about the nature of willpower, and how these beliefs shape self-regulation. Social factors can convey, and people can believe, that self-control relies on a limited resource and, when this resource is drawn down, so too is the capacity to exert self-control (limited-resource theory). Alternatively, people can reject this idea, and believe instead that exerting self-control can become self-energizing and even boost later performance (nonlimited-resource theory). Longitudinal and experimental studies show that these beliefs or lay theories causally affect how people strive toward goals and ultimately affect their well-being. The belief that willpower relies on a limited resource undermines self-control in the laboratory and in everyday life, especially as demands accumulate. This theory sensitizes people to cues about the availability of mental resources, such as feelings of tiredness and the consumption of sugar, long before any actual lack of resources, and facilitates the goal to rest following self-control efforts. By contrast, the belief that willpower is not so dependent helps people maintain their self-control and make progress on valued personal goals, and increases well-being.

Keywords

Lay theories Self-control Self-regulation Ego depletion Goal-striving Well-being Rest goal Self-efficacy 

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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