You can build up self-control to avoid impulsive behaviors that lead to bad outcomes

Friday, January 27, 2017

Whether we're contemplating a major life change or eating another chocolate chip cookie, self-control affects just about every single choice we make. And a lack of it leads to the worst decisions, as we've documented in separate research projects over the years.

One of the most recent studies, published in the journal Obesity, found that an inherent tendency to behave impulsively was associated with having an unhealthy weight.

It also has been linked to criminal behavior, excessive alcohol use, homicide, victimization, lying on questionnaires, as well as one's ability to interpret the actions of others.

We have devoted much of our academic and research careers to studying how self-control, or a lack of it, affects an array of decisions and behaviors. And whether referred to as self-control, impulse control or self-regulation, the ability to consider the long-term consequences of one's actions is a defining personality characteristic.

Given these impressive linkages of self-control to so many different attitudes, behaviors and brain functions at different ages and throughout life, it is important to understand some of the factors that may influence an individual's self-control. Perhaps most important, a key determinant of one's ability to self-regulate comes from parents teaching (and modeling) their children how to control their impulses. That's no small feat: Teaching self-control to children is a lot like house-breaking a dog. Aside from the family, schools (via teachers) and neighborhoods (via neighbors and associates) also play key roles in the development and sustainability of self-control.

So, now that we know some of the sources of self-control, how do we help parents, teachers, and our neighbors work together to help children develop self-control? Fortunately, there is quite a bit of research that shows that self-control can be aided, taught and improved. One of our studies, in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, shows that a wide range of programs are effective at improving self-control, including Triple P Parenting and Stop Now and Plan (SNAP). Early Head Start programs, like those found in the city of Dallas and throughout Texas, are beneficial as well.

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