Strengthening Self-Control by Practicing Inhibition and Initiation
An abstract of a dissertation that examines the effect of practicing different forms of self-control, inhibition and initiation, on the occurrence of subsequent behaviors reflecting one or both types of self-control. Previous work based on the limited strength model of self-control has demonstrated that practicing small acts of self-control can improve self-control over time. However, past research involving self-control practice has operationalized self-control primarily as the inhibition of impulses. The current set of studies distinguishes between two forms of self-control: self-control by inhibition and self-control by initiation. This work also contributes to the self-control literature by treating self-control as an idiosyncratic process. Study 1 tested whether fluctuations in each form of self-control, aggregated at the daily level, would predict the degree to which people reported engaging in other self-control behaviors. Study 1 was a two-week experience sampling study in which 101 undergraduates reported several times daily on their self-control behaviors. The results of Study 1 support a distinction between self-control by inhibition and initiation. Moreover, the finding that participants actually studied more on days when they reported exerting more self-control by initiation seems to support a possible practice effect on self-control that may be specific to form. Study 2 introduced a practice manipulation, testing whether practicing one form of self-control (either inhibition or initiation) leads to improvement in only that type of self-control (but across domains), or across both forms. Study 2 was four weeks in total: two weeks of a practice manipulation (either inhibition, initiation, or a no-practice control) and two weeks of experience sampling. Analyses were carried out using multilevel modeling in SAS Proc Mixed and SAS Proc Glimmix. However, results indicated that there was no main effect of practice on subsequent self-control behaviors. Follow-up analyses revealed that the effect of practice varied across dependent variables and as a function of reported exertion of inhibition and initiation. Several effects from Study 1, including the effect of within-person exertion of initiation on subsequent self-control behaviors, were replicated. Possible explanations for the unexpected findings, including the strength of the practice manipulation, are discussed. Ideas for future research, including tailoring self-control practice to specific demands on self-control, are presented. Implications for the effect of practice on future self-control pursuits and a distinction between inhibition and initiation are also discussed.
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