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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2016 Aug;145(8):1075-91. doi: 10.1037/xge0000185. Epub 2016 Jun 30.

Does self-control improve with practice? Evidence from a six-week training program.

Author information

1
School of Psychology, University of Sussex.
2
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
3
Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield.

Abstract

Can self-control be improved through practice? Several studies have found that repeated practice of tasks involving self-control improves performance on other tasks relevant to self-control. However, in many of these studies, improvements after training could be attributable to methodological factors (e.g., passive control conditions). Moreover, the extent to which the effects of training transfer to real-life settings is not yet clear. In the present research, participants (N = 174) completed a 6-week training program of either cognitive or behavioral self-control tasks. We then tested the effects of practice on a range of measures of self-control, including lab-based and real-world tasks. Training was compared with both active and no-contact control conditions. Despite high levels of adherence to the training tasks, there was no effect of training on any measure of self-control. Trained participants did not, for example, show reduced ego depletion effects, become better at overcoming their habits, or report exerting more self-control in everyday life. Moderation analyses found no evidence that training was effective only among particular groups of participants. Bayesian analyses suggested that the data were more consistent with a null effect of training on self-control than with previous estimates of the effect of practice. The implication is that training self-control through repeated practice does not result in generalized improvements in self-control. (PsycINFO Database Record.

PMID:
27359129
DOI:
10.1037/xge0000185
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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