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Self-control is also a key concept in the general theory of crime , a major theory in criminology. Gottfredson and Hirschi define self-control as the differential tendency of individuals to avoid criminal acts independent of the situations in which they find themselves. Desire is an affectively charged motivation toward a certain object, person, or activity, but not limited to, that associated with pleasure or relief from displeasure. A desire becomes a temptation when it impacts or enters the individual's area of self-control, if the behavior resulting from the desire conflicts with an individual's values or other self-regulatory goals.

New research looked at what people desire in real world settings.

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Over one week, 7, self-reports of desires were collected and indicated significant differences in desire frequency and strength, degree of conflict between desires and other goals, and the likelihood of resisting desire and success of the resistance. The most common and strongly experienced desires are those related to bodily needs like eating, drinking, and sleeping. Desires that conflict with overarching goals or values are known as temptations. Counteractive Self-Control Theory states that when presented with such a dilemma, we lessen the significance of the instant rewards while momentarily increasing the importance of our overall values.

When asked to rate the perceived appeal of different snacks before making a decision, people valued health bars over chocolate bars.

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However, when asked to do the rankings after having chosen a snack, there was no significant difference of appeal. Further, when college students completed a questionnaire prior to their course registration deadline, they ranked leisure activities as less important and enjoyable than when they filled out the survey after the deadline passed.

The stronger and more available the temptation is, the harsher the devaluation will be. One of the most common self-control dilemmas involves the desire for unhealthy or unneeded food consumption versus the desire to maintain long-term health. An indication of unneeded food could also be over expenditure on certain types of consumption such as eating away from home. Not knowing how much to spend, or overspending one's budget on eating out can be an symptom of a lack of self control.

Without knowing anything else about a food, the mere suggestion of good taste triggers counteractive self-control and prompted them to devalue the temptation in the name of health.

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Further, when presented with the strong temptation of one large bowl of chips, participants both perceived the chips to be higher in calories and ate less of them than did participants who faced the weak temptation of three smaller chip bowls, even though both conditions represented the same amount of chips overall.

Weak temptations are falsely perceived to be less unhealthy, so self-control is not triggered and desirable actions are more often engaged in, supporting the counteractive self-control theory. The decrease in an individual's liking of and desire for a substance following repeated consumption of that substance is known as satiation.

Satiation rates when eating depend on interactions of trait self-control and healthiness of the food. Those with low trait self-control satiated at the same pace regardless of health value. Further, when reading a description emphasizing the sweet flavor of their snack, participants with higher trait self-control reported a decrease in desire faster than they did after hearing a description of the healthy benefits of their snack. Once again, those with low self-control satiated at the same rate regardless of health condition.

Perceived unhealthiness of the food alone, regardless of actual health level, relates to faster satiation, but only for people with high trait self-control. Thinking that is characterized by high construals , whenever individuals "are obliged to infer additional details of content, context, or meaning in the actions and outcomes that unfold around them", [19] will view goals and values in a global, abstract sense. Whereas low level construals emphasize concrete, definitive ideas and categorizations.

Different construal levels determine our activation of self-control in response to temptations. One technique for inducing high-level construals is asking an individual a series of "why?

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When taking an Implicit Association Test , people with induced high-level construals are significantly faster at associating temptations such as candy bars with "bad," and healthy choices such as apples with "good" than those in the low-level condition. Further, higher-level construals also show a significantly increased likelihood of choosing an apple for snack over a candy bar. Without any conscious or active self-control efforts, temptations can be dampened by merely inducing high-level construals. It is suggested that the abstraction of high-level construals reminds people of their overall, lifelong values, such as a healthy lifestyle, which deemphasizes the current tempting situation.

Positive correlation between linguistic capability and self-control has been inferred from experiments with common chimpanzees.

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Human self-control research is typically modeled by using a token economy system. A token economy system is a behavioral program in which individuals in a group can earn tokens for a variety of desirable behaviors and can cash in the tokens for various backup, positive reinforcers.

One aspect of these procedural differences was the delay to the exchange period. 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 the non-human subjects, in the form of pigeons, they responded much like humans in that males showed much less control than females.

She then states, that in adulthood, for the most part, the sexes equalize on their ability to exhibit self-control.


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This could imply a human's ability to exert more self-control as they mature and become aware of the consequences associated with impulsivity. This suggestion is further examined below. Most of the research in the field of self-control assumes that self-control is in general better than impulsiveness.


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  • 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. Self-control is a measurable variable in humans. In the worst circumstances people with the most or high self-control and resilience have the best odds of defying the odds they are faced with, which could be poverty, bad schooling, unsafe communities, etc. Those at a disadvantage with high self-control go on to higher education and professional jobs, but this seems to have a negative effect on their health.

    When looking at people who come from advantage backgrounds with high self-control, we see a different phenomenon happening. Those who come from an advantaged background tend to be high-achieving and with their achievement comes good health. Or, at least, toward it. In the s Sherman James a socio-epidemiologist from North Carolina found that black Americans in the state suffered disproportionately from heart disease and strokes. He too landed on "John Henryism" as the cause of this phenomenon. 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. Skinner 's Science and Human Behavior provides a survey of nine categories of self-control methods. The manipulation of the environment to make some responses easier to physically execute and others more difficult illustrate this principle. This can be referred to as physical guidance which is the application of physical contact to induce an individual to go through the motions of a desired behavior.

    This concept can also be referred to as a physical prompt.

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    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. A common theme among studies of desire is an investigation of the underlying cognitive processes of a craving for an addictive substance, such as nicotine or alcohol. In order to better understand the cognitive processes involved, the Elaborated Intrusion EI theory of craving was developed. According to the EI theory, craving persists because individuals develop mental images of the coveted substance that are instantly pleasurable, but which also increase their awareness of deficit.

    This quickly escalates into greater expression of the imagery that incorporates working memory, interferes with performance on simultaneous cognitive tasks, and strengthens the emotional response. Essentially the mind is consumed by the craving for a desired substance, and this craving in turn interrupts any concurrent cognitive tasks. Deprivation is the time in which an individual does not receive a reinforcer, while satiation occurs when an individual has received a reinforcer to such a degree that it will temporarily have no reinforcing power over them.

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    On the other hand, when we have an exceeding amount of a reinforcer, that reinforcement loses its value; if an individual eats a large meal, they may no longer be enticed by the reinforcement of dessert. 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. Also noteworthy is the importance of imagery in desire cognition during a state of deprivation. A study conducted on this topic involved smokers divided into two groups. The control group was instructed to continue smoking as usual until they arrived at the laboratory, where they were then asked to read a multisensory neutral script, meaning it was not related to a craving for nicotine.

    The experimental group, however, was asked to abstain from smoking before coming to the laboratory in order to induce craving and upon their arrival were told to read a multisensory urge-induction script intended to intensify their nicotine craving.