Self-Regulation Failure by Baumeister and Heatherton
Patterns of self-regulatory failure:
1) Underregulation: occurs because of deficient standards, inadequate
monitoring or inadequate strength.
2) Misregulation: occurs because of false assumptions or misdirected efforts,
especially an unwarranted emphasis on emotion.
Evidence supports a strength model of self-regulation and suggests that people
often accept losing control.
Self-Regulatory Failure: occurs because of loss of control of attention, failure of
transcendence or various lapse-activated causes.
Crime, teen pregnancy, alcoholism, drug adduction, STDs, educational
underachievement, gambling and domestic violence are among the social problems
that revolve around the apparent inability of many individuals to discipline and
control themselves. Moreover, there are many additional problems with self-
regulation that cause considerable suffering to individuals even if they do not
menace society at large (ex: eating binges, procrastination).
One of the most elusive, important and distinctively human traits is the capacity of
human beings to alter their own responses and thus remove them from the direct
effects of immediate, situational stimuli.
Mischel and Bandura proposed and demonstrated that human beings do seem to
have the unique capacity to alter their own responses.
Self-regulation is a complex, multi-faceted process and so it is not possible to
identify a single cause or causal sequence that will explain all instances of self-
regulation. Instead, there are several main patterns; the most basic distinction is
between underregulation and misregulation.
Underregulation: entails a failure to exert self-control; often the person does not
bother or does not manage to control the self.
Misregulation: involves the exertion of control over oneself, but this control is
done in a misguided or counterproductive fashion, and so the desired
result is not achieved.
Feedback-loop models of Self-Regulation (such as the one elaborated by
Carver and Scheier) indicate 3 main ingredients of self-regulation, and these
suggest 3 main possible pathways for self-regulation failure.
1) The 1 ingredient: Standards (ideals, goals, or other conceptions of possible
Without clear and consistent standards, self regulation is hampered.
Therefore, either a lack of standards or a dilemma of conflicting, incompatible
standards can prevent effective self-regulation. There is supporting evidence
for this. Moreover, inappropriate standards can also hamper self-regulation.
2) The 2 ndingredient: Monitoring This involves comparing the actual state of the self to the standards and to
do thta the person must monitor him-or herself. Keeping close track of ones
actions and states is often vital to successful self-regulation and so when
people cease to monitor themselves they tend to lose control. This is been
shown to be true. The failure to judge ones abilities accurately may also
impede successful self-regulation.
3) The 3 ingredient is contained in the Operate phase of the feedback loop.
When the test phase reveals that the current state falls short of the
standards, some process is set in motion to change the current state.
Self-regulation failure can occur despite clear standards and effective
monitoring, simply because the person is unable to bring about change.
Certain responses are set in motion, either by innate programming, learning,
habit, or motivationand self-regulation involves overriding them.
In many cases, impulses are automatic in the sense of being beyond a
persons volitional control. Self-Regulation is a controlled process that
overrides the usual consequences of an impulse rather than preventing the
impulse from occurring.
Impulses and motivations vary according to strength, and the weaker ones are
those that are easier to control and stifle. If the impulses have strength, then
whatever stifles them must presumably consist of some greater strength.
Implications of a strength model:
1) There will be important individual differences in self-regulatory strength.
Thus, individual differences in the capacity to delay gratification predict a
variety of interpersonal traits and behaviours that reflect self-control and can
even predict academic performance over a decade later. Also, the same
individuals show self-regulatory deficits across a broad spectrum of both legal
and illegal behaviour.
2) A person can become exhausted from many simultaneous demands and so
will sometimes fail at self-control even regarding things at which he or she
would otherwise succeed. At any given time, a given person will only be able
to regulate so much of his or her behaviour and so when strength is depleted
by demands in one sphere, self-regulatory breakdowns may occur in others.
In particular, fatigue or overexertion will deplete the persons strength and
hence undermine some patterns of self-control. It has been shown that many
patterns of self-regulation break down when people are under stress.
Glass, Singer and Friedman found that coping with stress seemed to have a
psychic cost that took the form of lowered self-regulatory capacity.
Fatigue Hypothesis: since people are generally fatigued late in the
evening, then self-regulation should break down more at
such times than at others. Evidence supports this hypothesis.
If there are individual differences in self-regulatory strength, then over the
long run there will be positive correlations because strong people will tend to
have relatively high levels of self-control in all spheres. In the short runhowever, the correlations will be negative because devoting ones self-
regulatory efforts to one sphere will take away what is available for
controlling oneself in other spheres.
3) It is just as possible to increase strength by regular exercise, so self-
regulation should become easier the more one does it. This has been
asserted by James. Ex: boot camps. Although the effectiveness of these
programs has yet to be decided, we predict that their success at
rehabilitating prisoners will be in proportion to their success at strengthening
An implication of the notion of increasing strength is that people may become
better at practicing self-denial or impulse control over time. This could mean
that people who repeatedly quit smoking or go on diets may gradually
become more effective and successful.
Evidence suggests that psychological responses are marked by something akin to
inertia, which makes them difficult to interrupt.
Inertia refers to the theory that bodies in motion acquire a force that sustains them
Psychological processes do acquire a kind of inertia. Indeed, the longer a response
has gone on the more inertia it seems to have and hence the more difficult it is to
Zeigarnik effect: the principle that interrupting an activity becomes more
strenuous as it nears its comp