Unity and Diversity in Self-Regulation and Executive Functioning Grant uri icon


  • Persisting with a challenging professional goal, saving money, making ethical decisions, choosing healthy options despite temptation: while these activities cross different domains, they all depend in part on effective self-regulation, or the capacity persons have to guide their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a purposeful manner. Social psychological research has shown that self-regulation can lead to a number of positive outcomes, including better mental and physical health. Conversely, self-regulation failure or a lack of self-regulatory abilities is a component of some psychological and behavioral problems. Therefore, research that seeks to understand what drives successful self-regulation is critically important. However, the core cognitive processes involved in self-regulation are not well known, in part because self-regulation has been studied with different methods across different subfields of the social and behavioral sciences. Do these diverse measures of self-regulation actually reveal the same underlying processes? And what are the core cognitive processes that contribute to success at self-regulation? The current proposal will advance research and theory on self-regulation by answering these questions. A large sample of participants will complete several tests of self-regulation, including tests designed to measure delay of gratification, effortful persistence, and emotion regulation. The PIs will use factor analysis to examine the common but untested assumption that these different behavioral tests of self-regulation measure the same latent construct. Participants will also complete several cognitive tasks that measure aspects of executive functioning (i.e., inhibition, updating, and set shifting) that are assumed to underlie self-regulation. Performance on these cognitive tasks will be used to predict performance on the self-regulation tests. This evidence will reveal the cognitive processes that are essential for self-regulation and reveal the extent of empirical overlap between self-regulation and executive functioning.Isolating the key cognitive processes underlying various forms of self-regulation is essential for developing effective methods to improve the self-regulation necessary for overcoming common personal and societal challenges, such as helping people manage their emotions, inhibit unwanted thoughts and behaviors, focus their attention, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The proposed research will also aid understanding of behavioral problems and psychological disorders that have self-regulation failure as a core feature. In addition to these potential societal benefits, the proposed research will promote teaching, training, and learning by involving a diverse group of graduate and undergraduate students in all portions of the research process.

date/time interval

  • 2014 - 2019