"A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls" (Proverbs 25:28).
An example of the kind of important work done in rat self-control research might be Green & Estle's work.
Pigeon self-control research is typically done in a delay-reduction paradigm innovated in the early 1970s. In this model of research two responses are made available simultaneously. Each response leads to a different outcome. One response typically leads to a smaller-reinforcement with a small or no delay from the selection of that response to the onset of the consequence. The other response is typically a larger-reinforcement which has some element of delay. In pigeons a common level of delay is as little as 6 seconds to qualify as "large". A typical small-reinforcer, small delay response might be a red key that produces 2 seconds of food access with no delay. A typical larger-reinforcer response might produce 6 seconds of food access, but only after 6 seconds of delay from that selection. To ensure that the delayed response represents an overall superior choice a delay of several seconds usually follows the smaller-reinforcement choice.
Largely replicating the work of Mischel using pigeons instead of children, Grosch and Neuringer (1981) were able to affirm generality in pigeon and human self-control research by showing that the behavior of human children was accurately represented by pigeons presented with the same conditions.
Human self-control research is typically modelled by using a token economy system in which human participants choose between tokens for one choice and usually more tokens for a delayed choice. Different results were being obtained for humans and non-humans, with the latter appearing to maximize their overall reinforcement despite delays, with the former being sensitive to changes in delay. The difference in research methodologies with humans - using tokens or conditioned reinforcers - and non-humans using sub_primary reinforcers suggested procedural artifacts as a possible suspect. One aspect of these procedural differences was the delay to the exchange period (Hyten et al 1994). Non-human subjects can, and would, access their reinforcement immediately. The human subjects had to wait for an "exchange period" in which they could exchange their tokens for money, usually at the end of the experiment. When this was done with pigeons they responded much like humans in which males have less control than females (Jackson & Hackenberg 1996).
Most of the research in the field of self control assumes that self control is in general better than impulsiveness. Some developmental psychologists argue that this is normal, and people age from infants, who have no ability to think of the future, and hence no self control or delayed gratification, to adults. As a result almost all research done on this topic is from this standpoint and very rarely is impulsiveness the more adaptive response in experimental design.
More recently some in the field of developmental psychology have begun to think of self control in a more complicated way that takes into account that sometimes impulsiveness is the more adaptive response. In their view, a normal individual should have the capacity to be either impulsive or controlled depending on which is the most adaptive. However, this is a recent shift in paradigm and there is little research conducted along these lines (Logue, 1995).
According to Logue, it is possible to examine the differences between individuals development of self-control by examining it as a function of culture. “By definition, cultures vary in terms of the experiences provided the people who are a part of these cultures. It is possible, therefore, that during development, people in different cultures acquire different degrees or types of self-control” (Logue, 1995).
These differing degrees of self-control can be seen when comparing Western and Eastern cultures. In the United States, there appear to be strong tendencies for self-control and impulsivity. Western societies typically describe self control as, “goal-oriented productivity, assertiveness and instrumental doing”. Louge (1995) further states that, “self-control and resistance to temptation has long been part of Americans’ Judeo-Christian heritage. However, in recent decades, there has been concern that this early emphasis on self control may be dissipating”. This dissipation has been attributed to the baby boom or, “me” generation of the 70’s & 80’s and the decreasing rate of savings by current members of this age. This decline in self-control has additionally been noted by Kelly Brownells’ research stating that in modern society, “the degree to which someone is judged as possessing self-control is significantly affected by the degree to which the person has a fit, thin body”(Brownell, 1991).
With regard to Eastern culture, societies have described self-control as “yielding, letting go, acceptance, and nonattachment” (Logue, 1995). This difference between the descriptions of self-control from those in Western society are not due to differences in definition, but rather the difference in what is considered a large outcome worth exhibiting self-control for. Emphasis must be made on the importance placed on self-control by the two societies. In Japanese culture, “individual gratification is valued much less than is advancement of the fortunes of the group. This requires individuals to set aside their personal interests in order to work for the long-term goals of society” (Logue, 1995). The samurai code, or ‘The Code of the Warriors’ also known as bushido, is a clear example of this. This can also be seen in the extreme self-control exhibited by high-school students in Japan preparing for college entrance examinations. Logue states that, “many Japanese organizations put more emphasis on the college examination score rather than on performance during college” (Logue, 1995).
Just as self-control (in terms of money and savings mainly due to easier credit in recent times) in Western society seems to be decreasing (particularly in America), recent findings relating to a decrease in the rate of savings in Japan suggests that a similar trend may be surfacing. Looking at the rate of savings can provide insight into the long-term planning strategies of the cultures. With growing technology and globalization, previous differences between the two cultures may be disappearing.
Subjects that were given a task that involves self-control were later less able for self-control even in entirely different areas. This result was replicated in over hundred experiments.
Self Control as defined here is also known as impulse control or self regulation. Some psychologists prefer the term impulse control because it may be more precise. The term Self regulation is used to refer to the many processes individuals use to manage drives and emotions. Therefore, self regulation also embodies the concept of will power. Self Regulation is an extremely important executive function of the brain. Deficits in self control/regulation are found in a large number of psychological disorders including ADHD, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, addiction, eating disorders and impulse control disorders.
A self in behavior analysis refers to a repertoire of behaviors typically under the control of a set of contingencies of reinforcement. One self may be of strong biological origin - for example our eating self. Another self may be of social origin, for example one that punishes us for over-eating. These two selves may contend in controlling the same response - eating - that sets the stage for self-control.
The manipulation of the environment to make some response easier to physically execute and others physically more difficult illustrates this principle. Clapping one's hand over your own mouth, placing your hands in your pockets to prevent fidgeting, using a 'bridge' hand position to steady a pool shot all represent physical methods to affect behavior.
Manipulating the occasion for behavior may change behavior as well. Removing distractions that induce undesired actions or adding a prompt to induce it are examples. Hiding temptation and reminders are two more.
One may manipulate one's own behavior by affecting states of deprivation or satiation. By skipping a meal before a free dinner one may more effectively capitalize on the free meal. By eating a healthy snack beforehand the temptation to eat free "junk food" is reduced.
Going for a 'change of scene' may remove emotional stimuli, as may rehearsing injustice to motivate a strong response later.
Setting an alarm clock to awake ourselves later is a form of aversive control. By doing this we arrange something that will only be escapable by awakening ourselves.
The use of self-administered drugs allows us to simulate changes in our conditioning history. The ingestion of caffeine allows us to simulate a state of wakefulness which may be useful for various reasons.
The use of a token economy, or other methods or techniques unique to operant conditioning may be seen as a special form of self-control.
Self-punishment of responses would include the arranging of punishment contingent upon undesired responses. This might be seen in the behavior of whipping oneself which some monks and religious persons do. This is different from aversive stimulation in that, for example, the alarm clock generates escape from the alarm, while self-punishment presents stimulation after the fact to reduce the probability of future behavior.
Skinner notes that Jesus exemplified this principle in loving his enemies. When we are filled with rage or hatred we might control ourselves by 'doing something else' or more specifically something that is incompatible with our response. When we give three miles of service to someone who compels us one, or submit tenderly a cheek after the other is slapped, we may find ourselves less enraged and so able to control our responses.