Social, Personal, and Environmental Influences on Self-Control
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Current accounts of self-control are highly individualistic. When individuals succeed at exerting self-control, we assume that they possess some positive internal characteristic that explans their success. Similarly, when individuals do not succeed, we blame their failure on an internal flaw. Yet many factors may influence the likelihood that an individual will exert self-control, including not only internal characteristics of individuals but also external factors. In this dissertation, I develop a framework for understanding the multiple sources of influence on individuals' state self-control that groups these factors into three categories: social, personal, and environmental. Further, I detail the multiple mechanisms by which the factors in the Social, Personal, and Environmental Control of Self (SPECS) model may influence self-control. Specifically, I examine the potential role of regulatory accessibility as a mechanism of influence on state self-control. In Study 1, I show that individuals who think about a friend with good self-control demonstrate increased performance on a persistence task than do participants who think about a friend with bad self-control. In Study 2, I replicate this effect, showing increased inhibitory capacity among individuals who wrote about a friend with good self-control compared to a control group, and decreased inhibitory capacity among individuals who wrote about a friend with bad self-control. In Study 3, I show that regulatory exertion increases among individuals subliminally primed with the name of a friend with good self-control and that regulatory exertion decreases among indivdiuals primed with the name of a friend with bad self-control. These findings support my hypothesis that models of self-control should account for sources of influence external to the individual, as well as explore the multiple pathways by which regulatory exertion is influenced. These findings support my hypothesis that social factors influence regulatory exertion, or state self-control. Further, they provide evidence that state self-control is influenced not only by regulatory capacity, but also by other mechanisms, including regulatory accessibility. Further research following the SPECS model will investigate the combined influence of social and environmental influences on self-control and the indirect influences of personal characteristics, such as trait self-control, on regulatory exertion.
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