abstract what good is self?control we incorporated a new measure of individual differences in self?control into two large investigations of a broad spectrum of behaviors. the new scale showed good internal consistency and retest reliability. higher scores on self?control correlated with a higher grade point average better adjustment fewer reports of psychopathology higher self?esteem less binge eating and alcohol abuse better relationships and interpersonal skills secure attachment and more optimal emotional responses. tests for curvilinearity failed to indicate any drawbacks of so?called overcontrol and the positive effects remained after controlling for social desirability. low self?control is thus a significant risk factor for a broad range of personal and interpersonal problems. the human capacity to exert self?control is arguably one of the most powerful and beneficial adaptations of the human psyche. people are happiest and healthiest when there is an optimal fit between self and environment and this fit can be substantially improved by altering the self to fit the world rothbaum weisz snyder 1982 indeed the self’s capacity to inhibit its antisocial impulses and conform to the demands of group life has been proposed to be the hallmark of civilized life freud 1930 even today the vast majority of social and personal problems seem on theoretical grounds to involve a substantial component of deficient self?control see baumeister heatherton tice 1994 these observations provide multiple bases for deriving the broad hypothesis that a high personal capacity for self?control should be powerfully adaptive and should enable individuals to live happier healthier lives. anecdotal impressions and assorted research findings suggest that substantial individual differences exist in people’s capacity for self?control. some people are much better able than others to manage their lives hold their tempers keep their diets fulfill their promises stop after a couple of drinks save money persevere at work keep secrets and so forth. these differences seemingly ought to be associated with greater success and well?being in life. one goal of the present investigation was to provide some direct evidence that individual differences in self?control would effectively predict positive outcomes across a variety of life domains. measurement of self?control in order to investigate the possible benefits of self?control it is necessary to have a good trait measure of this construct. existing measures are few and old. in fact the relative dearth of published evidence on the benefits of self?control among adults may indicate that researchers have not been satisfied or successful using the existing scales. recent advances in self?control theory see carver scheier 1981 1998; also baumeister et al. 1994; muraven baumeister 2000 suggest the need for developing new scales as opposed to relying on very old measures. for example baumeister et al. 1994 identified four major domains of self?controlcontrolling thoughts emotions impulses and performancewhich would be important to include in an overall index of self?control. hence a second aim of the present investigation was to develop an up?to?date scale for measuring individual differences in self?control. there have been some efforts to develop ways of measuring individual differences in self?control but these did not seem suitable for our purposes. we review them briefly here however because some investigators may find them useful or appropriate in specific research contexts. the self?control behavior inventory fagen long stevens 1975 is essentially a checklist for observational ratings of behavior. behavior observation has several advantages over self?report measures but it is considerably more difficult to use inasmuch as it requires trained observers and a substantial representative sample of behavior to observe. the self?control questionnaire was put forward by brandon oescher and loftin 1990 as a trait scale of self?control. brandon et al.’s emphasis was on the self?control of health behaviors and we had some concerns about the breadth of items. most notably 25% of the items on the self?control questionnaire refer specifically to eating patterns. this disproportionate emphasis on eating raises the danger of inflating gender differences in trait self?control because eating is one of the few spheres of self?control where pronounced gender differences exist. it may be an excellent measure for measuring self?control with respect to health but it was never intended as a broad based measure of self?control. the self?control schedule developed by rosenbaum 1980 is intended specifically for use with clinical samples and focuses on the usage of strategies such as self?distraction and cognitive reframing to solve particular behavioral problems. it has received favorable reports regarding its validity e.g. richards 1985 and has undeniable value for relevant investigations targeted at exploring the uses of such strategies among people with clinical problems. but again we concluded that it was not appropriate to use as a trait measure of dispositional self?control across broad spheres of normal behavior. some authors have used a self?control subscale from gough’s 1987 california personality inventory cpi there is reason to question whether this subscale is appropriately named: although some items on it do seem a priori relevant to self?control others do not. some seem quite irrelevant to the concept of self?control construct e.g. i would like to wear expensive clothes;i would like to be an actor on the stage or in the movies;i have had very peculiar and strange experiences some address interpersonal issues that are not directly indicative of self?control e.g. my home life was always happy;my way of doing things is apt to be misunderstood by others others seem to focus in particular on a narcissistic style of self?admiration e.g. i would like to be the center of attention;a person needs to show off a little now and then others ask about impulses rather than about control over them e.g. sometimes i feel like smashing things;sometimes i feel as if i must injure either myself or someone else the heterogeneity of items on the cpi self?control sc scale may well reflect the complex process by which the scale evolved. following the development of the cpi so socialization and re responsibility subscales gough mcclosky and meehl 1952 concluded that so and re did not really capture the kind of joyful ebullient abandonment of restraint that one sees at certain times such as attendance at a carnival cpi administrator’s guide p. 45 thus they set about developing a scale to assess impetuosity high spirits caprice and a taste for deviltry cpi administrator’s guide p. 45 clearly one pattern of behavior that may be atypical of self?control in general. the conceptual heterogeneity along with the seeming lack of face validity of many items may be one reason that this scale has not been popular among laboratory researchers in recent decades despite the rapid expansion of research on self?regulation. certainly self?control is a distinct construct that should be largely independent of high spirits and a taste for deviltry. in any case the cpi antedates most of the modern research on self?control and so on an a priori basis it would be desirable to construct a new scale based on recent developments. in view of the drawbacks with these existing measures we felt it desirable to develop our own. central to our concept of self?control was the ability to override or change one’s inner responses as well as to interrupt undesired behavioral tendencies such as impulses and refrain from acting on them. the concept of self?control as overriding responses fits well with carver and scheier’s 1981 1982 1998 pioneering work on self?regulation. their theoretical model emphasized the feedback loop test operate test exit that guides behavior toward goals and standards. indeed their work arose from studies of self?awareness for which an effective trait measure has long been available fenigstein scheier buss 1975 our interest placed less emphasis on the supervisory feedback loop and instead emphasized the operate phase of the loop by which the self performs operations that alter itself. regulating the stream of thought e.g. forcing oneself to concentrate altering moods or emotions restraining undesirable impulses and achieving optimal performance e.g. by making oneself persist all constitute important instances of the self overriding its responses and altering its states or behaviors. more generally breaking habits resisting temptation and keeping good self?discipline all reflect the ability of the self to control itself and we sought to build our scale around them. benefits of self?control self?control is widely regarded as a capacity to change and adapt the self so as to produce a better more optimal fit between self and world e.g. rothbaum et al. 1982 central to our concept of self?control is the ability to override or change one’s inner responses as well as to interrupt undesired behavioral tendencies and refrain from acting on them. from this perspective self?control should contribute to producing a broad range of positive outcomes in life. in fact empirical evidence indicates that people with high dispositional self?control have better outcomes in various spheres. in two independent studies we sought to replicate and extend these prior findings taking advantage of two large ongoing investigations in which multiple outcomes were being assessed. achievement and task performance a first domain involves task performance such as in school or work. our participants were university students and so the primary or quintessential measure of overall success is grade point average. people with high self?control should presumably achieve better grades in the long run because they should be better at getting tasks done on time preventing leisure activities from interfering with work using study time effectively choosing appropriate courses and keeping emotional distractions from impairing performance. prior studies have provided some evidence that self?control facilitates school performance. feldman martinez?pons and shaham 1995 found that children with higher self?regulation as assessed by the student regulated learning scale; zimmerman martinez?pons 1988 received better grades in a computer course. flynn 1985 found that improvements in delay of gratification were correlated to improvements in school achievement among 4?year?old african american migrant boys although not girls. a pair of studies by mischel shoda and peake 1988 and shoda mischel and peake 1990 assessed children’s capacity to delay gratification at age 4 and then followed up the participants as they completed high school and entered college. they showed that the children who were most successful at delaying gratification went on to become adults with higher sat scores indicating better academic performance. insofar as delay of gratification constitutes a behavioral index of self?control these results do point toward lasting and long?term benefits of good self?control. wolfe and johnson 1995 found that self?control was the only one among 32 personality variables that contributed significantly to prediction of grade point average among university students. they used four different self?control scales including a big five conscientiousness subscale john 1990 an organization subscale from the jackson personality inventory jackson 1976 a control subscale developed by waller lilienfeld tellegen and lykken 1991 and a new scale of items pertaining self?efficacy. these findings lent support for our prediction that high self?control would predict better academic performance. impulse control a second domain involves impulsive behaviors. many university students suffer from problems in impulse regulation as has been widely documented see baumeister et al. 1994 for review in particular problems with regulating eating are prevalent if not epidemic among female university students whereas surveys of male students suggest that many suffer from alcohol abuse problems e.g. heatherton 1993; heatherton baumeister 1991; johnston o’malley bachman 1991; williamson 1990 regulating intake of food and drink is one of the most obvious and direct applications of self?control and so we predicted that people high in self?control should exhibit fewer such problems. several studies have linked impulse control problems to deficits in self?control. storey 1999 concluded that poor self?regulation as assessed by the barratt impulsivity scale was an important predictor of heroin addiction. wills duhamel and vaccaro 1995 found that self?control as assessed by a scale they derived from a behavior rating scale by kendall and wilcox 1979 was an important predictor of substance abuse among adolescents and in fact seemed to mediate between temperament and substance abuse. peluso ricciardelli and williams 1999 found some links of generally poor self?control as assessed by a scale developed by rohde lewinsohn tilson and seeley 1990 to problem drinking and problem eating patterns among college students. cook young taylor and bedford 1998 found that low cpi self?control predicted higher alcohol consumption among adults. romal and kaplan 1995 found that people with good self?control as assessed by rosenbaum’s 1980 scale were better able to save their money rather than spend it. in study 1 we sought to extend these findings by examining the links between self?control and young adults’ reports of eating disorder symptoms and alcohol use. adjustment a third domain involves psychological adjustment. many psychological problems and disorders involve some degree of self?regulation failure. the link between psychological symptoms and self?control could be bidirectional. on one hand difficulties with self?regulation can set the stage for a range of psychological problems. indeed problems with self?control are the hallmark of many disorders detailed in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders dsm?iv; american psychiatric association 1994 conversely the emotional distress associated with many of these problems can impair self?control by preempting limited resources and by producing stressful outcomes that further burden the individual’s regulatory capacity. of particular interest is the hypothesis that psychological difficulties can result from either too little or too much control. the pathogenic nature of self?control failure is fairly obvious. the dsm?iv has an entire cluster of diagnoses that fall under the umbrella of impulse control disorders and many other disorders are essentially defined by problems in the regulation of thought affect and/or behavior e.g. panic and other anxiety disorders antisocial personality disorder anger management problems psychological problems purported to stem from an excess of self?control are less obvious but they have been hypothesized to be important too. most notably notions of overcontrol pervade clinical conceptualizations of both obsessive?compulsive disorder and certain eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. in contrast other writers have rejected the notion that too much self?control is bad holding that self?regulatory failures are either underregulation or misregulation carver scheier 1981; baumeister et al. l994 in this view the putative category of overcontrol is simply a misuse of a desirable capacity rather than an indication that too much self?control is bad. from these accounts two sets of competing hypotheses can be made. based on the concept that overcontrol exists and is maladaptive one would expect individual differences in self?control to be differentially related to distinct symptom clustersfor example positively correlated with symptoms of obsessive?compulsive disorder and negatively correlated with problems with anxiety and anger. from this perspective it would also follow that an index of overall psychological adjustment or psychopathology would show a a curvilinear relationship such that both very high and very low self?control are associated with pathology or b no relationship because the two opposing effects cancel each other out. in contrast the misregulation theories would predict that self?control would have an essentially linear relationship to psychological symptoms such that the highest scores would be associated with greatest positive psychological adjustment. this should be the case across distinct symptom clusters as well as for an index of general psychological adjustment. surprisingly little previous work has examined links between self?control and adjustment. and to our knowledge no study has systematically evaluated these competing hypotheses regarding overcontrol. at most some findings have indicated that poor self?control is associated with aversive emotions. in a sample of preschool children fabes et al. 1999 found that good effortful control reported by parents and teachers interacting with situational factors predicted less negative emotional arousal. several measures pertaining to self?control including block’s 1961 measures of ego?control and ego?resiliency barron’s 1953 measure of egostrength and several measures of hardiness were also included in a recent study with an adult sample by gramzow sedikides panter and insko 2000 and they predicted emotional distress better than measures of the structure of the self such as complexity or consistency of self?concepts or discrepancies between self?concept and ideal or ought selves the present study 1 sought to extend this work substantially by examining the relationship of self?control to such key psychological symptoms as anxiety depression obsessive?compulsive behaviors and somatic complaints. we also investigated both linear and nonlinear effects as a way of getting at the question of whether very high levels of self?control are associated with poor adjustment. interpersonal relationships a fourth domain concerns interpersonal relationships. high self?control should make people better more desirable relationship partners and could contribute to relationship success in a variety of ways. self?control could contribute directly to harmonious interactions such as when people refrain from saying hurtful things on impulse. it can also contribute indirectly such as by enabling people to resist temptations to become involved with alternative partners. poor self?control may lead to angry outbursts and even aggressive behavior as well as difficulty moving beyond interpersonal slights to forgive others. there is a good deal of evidence suggesting that children with good self?control get along better with others. a longitudinal study by eisenberg et al. 1997 confirmed that good self?regulation reported by parents and teachers at early ages predicts better social functioning up through age 10. maszk eisenberg and guthrie 1999 found that teacher ratings of children’s self?control ages 4?6 predicted subsequent social status such that children who had better self?control went on to become more popular. fabes et al. 1999 found that good effortful control reported by parents and teachers interacting with situational factors predicted more socially competent responding among
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