What’s inside is all that counts? The contours of everyday thinking about self-control

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Does self-control require willpower? The question cuts to the heart of a debate about whether self-control is identical with some psychological process internal to the agents or not. Noticeably absent from these debates is systematic evidence about the folk-psychological category of self-control. Here, we present the results of two behavioral studies (N = 296) that indicate the structure of everyday thinking about self-control. In Study 1, participants rated the degree to which different strategies to respond to motivational conflict exemplify self-control. Participants distinguished between intra-psychic and externally-scaffolded strategies and judged that the former exemplified self-control more than the latter. In Study 2, participants provided various solutions to manage motivational conflict and rated their proposals on effectiveness. Participants produced substantially more intra-psychic strategies, rated them as more effective, and advised them at a higher rate than externally-scaffolded strategies. Taken together, these results suggest that while people recognize a plurality of strategies as genuine instances of self-control, purely internal exercises of self-control are considered more prototypical than their externally-scaffolded counterparts. This implies a hierarchical structure for the folk psychological category of self-control. The concept encompasses a variety of regulatory strategies and organizes these strategies along a hierarchical continuum, with purely intra-psychic strategies at the center and scaffolded strategies in the periphery.
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First archival date: 2021-07-16
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