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Self Regulation Self-regulation refers to the self’s capacity to alter its behaviors (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). These behaviors are changed in accordance to some standards, ideals or goals either stemming from internal or societal expectations (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). The presence and quality of these actions depend on one’s beliefs and motives (Zimmerman, 2000). Shah and Kruglanski (2000) suggest that everyday self-regulation involves the pursuit of many different goals, standards, and ideals.

Importance of self-regulation In general, self-regulation increases the degree that human behavior is flexible and able to adapt (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). This flexibility allows people to adjust to societal and situational demands that they encounter on a daily basis (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Specifically, self-regulation places one’s “social conscience” over selfish impulses, allowing people to do what is right and not what they want to do (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). In addition, the self-regulatory process prevents impulses that could be costly to the individual in the long-run, even when there are short-term benefits (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007).

Historical Roots of self-regulation Zimmerman (2000) states that self-regulation is important to human survival in that self-regulation is directly connected with the goal of social acceptance. Historically, social acceptance was crucial for survival. Both survival and reproduction proved to be easier with social acceptance than when one faced social isolation (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Humans, unlike other animals, get what they need from the social group more often than getting what they need directly from nature (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Due to the heavy reliance on the social group, social acceptance, and therefore self-regulation is crucial for success.

Self-regulation as a predictor Self-regulation has been found to be associated with success or failure in many different problems that impact society (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004, 2007; Worden et al., 1989). When there is insufficient self-regulation these issues occur: abuse of drugs and alcohol, addiction, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, gambling, violence, crime, eating disorders, anger control problems, underachievement in school, debt and bankruptcy, and more (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). In addition, people who are have poor self-regulatory skills do not succeed in relationships, cannot hold jobs, and may even become criminals. Sayette (2004) subdivides self-regulation failure into two categories: underregulation and misregulation (p.448). Underregulation refers to a failure to control oneself whereas misregulation deals with having control in a manner that does not bring about the desired goal (Sayette, 2004). Conversely, Baumeister & Vohs (2007) found that those with good self-regulatory skills have success in school, work, and relationships and have more positive mental health in general.

Components of self-regulation Self-regulation has typically been divided into three main components: standards, monitoring, and strength. However recent research now recognizes a fourth component: motivation (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007).

Standards: As the aforementioned definition of self-regulation points out, the change that the individual makes in one’s behavior is often based on some ideal, goal or demand that he/she interprets from society or from oneself. Change often occurs when people feel as though they do not measure up to these standards (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Baumeister & Vohs (2007) suggest that effective self-regulation requires these standards to be clear. When standards are conflicting or ambiguous self-regulation is proven to be very difficult (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007).

Monitoring: It is necessary to keep track of behaviors in order to successfully self-regulate. According to Zimmerman (2000)self-regulation is a cyclical process because “the feedback from prior performance is used to make adjustments during current efforts” (p. 14). This type of adjustment is necessary because personal, behavioral and environmental factors are constantly changing over the course of performance (Zimmerman, 2000). As found in Baumeister and Vohs (2007), Carver & Scheier (1981, 1982, 1998) first adapted the feedback-loop theory to self-regulation. Carver & Scheier (2000) state “goals serve as reference values for feedback loops” (p.42). This feedback-loop of self-regulation is referred to as TOTE (test, operate, test, and exit) (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, p. 133). One begins by comparing the self to the standard. If he self does not meet the standards one begins to makechanges to closer resemble the standard. Once again the self is compared to the standard, and the cycle continues until the two are in line (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). It is at this point that the person can exit, ceasing self-regulation of that specific behavior.

Self-regulatory strength: This idea is more commonly referred to as “willpower” (Baumeister &Vohs, 2007, p.3). It is found that changing the self is difficult and therefore requires a certain amount of strength (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Recent studies have found that blood glucose, the brain’s main source of fuel, is an important contributor to self-regulatory strength (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). However self-regulatory acts use up blood glucose, making it temporarily depleted (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). In general it is found that each individual has a limited supply of willpower, and when the supply is low self-regulation is not effective (Schmeichel & Baumeister, 2004).

Motivation: Baumeister & Vohs (2007) specify that this refers to the motivation one has to meet the goal or standard. It is found that even if all three of the other components are present, (e.g.: the standards are evident, monitoring is taking place, and the individual has full strength), the lack of motivation could cause the failure to self-regulate (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). Put quite simply this failure is from a lack of caring about the goal.

Baumeister & Vohs (2007) state that it is necessary that some of each of the four components be present in order for self-regulation to be successful. However, it is also suggested that to some degree the components can substitute for each other. For example, motivation may be effective at substituting for a lack of self-regulatory strength (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007).

Types of self-regulation Self-determination theory draws a qualitative distinction between two types of self-regulation: autonomous self-regulation and controlled self-regulation. Autonomous self-regulation is characterized by feeling as though the behavior, emotion, or cognition being regulated is regulated for reasons that a person values, finds meaningful, and wholly endorses; Controlled self-regulation, by contrast, is characterized by feelings of internal or external pressure that conflict with what one would otherwise choose (e.g., avoiding shame, interpersonal rejection, or physical punishment). Studies indicate that controlled self-regulation is more difficult and more fatiguing of limited self-regulatory resources (Moller, Deci, & Ryan, 2006).

Inhibitors of self-regulation The main inhibitors of self-regulation deal with one’s ability to monitor one’s own actions. Although there are many factors that impact this ability, (emotional distress, distraction, etc), the one that is most important is alcohol intoxication (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Hull & Slone (2004) recognize that alcohol is one of the most common forms of inhibiting self-monitoring and even when used mildly, alcohol still reduces one’s self-awareness.

Areas of interest in self-regulation research Due to the fact that self-regulation as a concept is broad and is an overarching theme in many areas of life the research tends to cover a wide spectrum (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). Some examples of topics studied in self-regulation are academic achievement, self-regulation of health related behaviors, self-regulation in organizational settings, depression, relationship success, self-regulation dealing with sexual acts, criminal acts, social anxiety, and many more.

Self-regulation as prevention There are also many studies that utilize the promotion of self-regulation to prevent certain actions. For example Worden, Flynn, Merrill, Waller, & Haugh (1989) conducted a study testing self-regulation tactics to prevent alcohol-impaired driving in three communities in Vermont. A community education program was designed to help the individuals self-regulate his/her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) below a level of .05 (Worden et al., 1989). At bars and other establishments that sold alcohol “wallet cards” were given to customers in order to keep track of how many drinks were consumed (Worden et al., 1989). Also, bartenders and store clerks were trained on how to calculate BAC (Worden et al., 1989).Additionally demonstrations were given through use of television stations. One community received this full education program, one received only education through television, and one community served as a control (Worden et al., 1989). After six months of receiving education a roadside survey was taken of 892 nighttime drivers (Worden et al., 1989). It was found that the members of the community education program had 5.3% fewer drinks with BACs above .05, and 1.0% fewer in the television only group than the control group (Worden et al., 1989). In addition fewer individuals were found above a .00 BAC in either program as compared to the control group (Worden et al., 1989). In conclusion, this study found that self-regulation training can be effective as a prevention tool.

Alternative explanations Zimmerman (2000) states that it is universally agreed upon that self-regulation is critical to human survival. However he argues that there has been disagreement about how self-regulation can be analyzed and defined. The social cognitive perspective defines self-regulation in terms of “context-specific processes that are used cyclically to achieve personal goals” goes against theoretical traditions that try to define self-regulation as a “singular internal state, trait, or stage that is genetically endowed or personally discovered” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 34).


Baumeister R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social Psychology & Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-Regulation, Ego Depletion, and Motivation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 1-14.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2000).On the structure of behavioral self-regulation. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner, Handbook of Self-Regulation. (pp 42-80). San Diego: Academic Press.

Hull, J. G., & Slone, L.B. (2004). Alcohol and Self-regulation. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs, Handbook of Self-regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications (pp. 467-492). New York: Guilford Press

Moller, A. C., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2006). Choice & ego-depletion: A self-determination theory perspective. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1024-1036.

Sayette, M. A. (2004). Self-regulatory Failure and Addiction. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs, Handbook of Self-regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications (pp. 448-466). New York : Guilford Press

Schmeichel, B. J., & Baumesiter, R. F. (2004). Self-regulatory Strength. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs, Handbook of Self-regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications (pp. 115-130). New York: Guilford Press

Shah, J. Y., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2000) Aspects of goal networks: Implications for self-regulation. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner, Handbook of Self-Regulation. (pp 86-108). San Diego: Academic Press.

Worden, J. K., Flynn, B. S., Merrill, D. G.., Waller, J. A., & Haugh, L. D. (1989). Preventing Alcohol-impaired driving through community self-regulation training. American Journal of Public Health, 79 (3), 287-290.

Zimmerman, B., J. (2000).Attaining Self-Regulation: A Social Cognitive Perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner, Handbook of Self-Regulation. (pp 13- 35). San Diego:Academic Press.

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