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Research on self-control: An integrating framework

  • A. W. Logue (a1)
Abstract

The tendency to choose a larger, more delayed reinforcer over a smaller, less delayed one has frequently been termed “selfcontrol.” Three very different research traditions – two models emphasizing the control of local contingencies of reinforcement (Mischel's social learning theory and Herrnstein's matching law) and molar maximization models (specifically optimal foraging theory) – have all investigated behavior within the self-control paradigm. A framework is proposed to integrate research from all three research areas. This framework consists of three parts: a procedural analysis, a causal analysis, and a theoretical analysis. The procedural analysis provides a common procedural terminology for all three areas. The causal analysis establishes that, in all three research traditions, self-control varies directly with the current physical values of the reinforcers; that is, choices increase with reinforcer amount and decrease with reinforcer delay. But self-control also varies according to past events to which a subject has been exposed, and according to current factors other than the reinforcers. Each of the three models has therefore incorporated these indirect effects on self-control by postulating unobservable mechanisms. In all three cases, these mechanisms represent a subject's behavior as a function of a perceived environment. The theoretical analysis demonstrates that evolutionary theory can encompass the research from all three areas by considering differences in the adaptiveness of self-control in different situations. This integration provides a better and more predictive description of self-control.

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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
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