Self-Control and Regulatory Fit - Matthew T. Gailliot
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Self-Control Depletion Eliminates the Benefits of Regulatory Fit
Regulatory fit occurs when a person's regulatory focus matches situational demands. People can be either promotion focused (i.e., they pursue goals by focusing on approaching good outcomes) or prevention focused (i.e., they pursue goals by focusing on avoiding bad outcomes). For example, a student who is promotion focused might have the goal of receiving an 'A', whereas a student who is prevention focused might have the goal of avoiding receiving any grade lower than an 'A'. Situational demands can be framed in terms of either promotion or prevention. For example, students might be instructed on an exam to do their best to earn an 'A' (promotion focus) or they might be instructed to avoid earning any grade lower than an 'A' (prevention focus). Regulatory fit occurs when both the person and situational demands are either promotion focused or prevention focused.
Regulatory fit makes people perform better on various tasks (e.g., (Keller & Bless, 2005)). For example, on an exam that provides promotion focused instructions, a student who is promotion focused should perform better on the exam than a student who is prevention focused.
The current study found that the benefits of regulatory fit disappear after people have used self-control. Specifically, participants solved anagrams and were instructed to either solve them all (promotion focus) or to avoid leaving any unsolved (prevention focus). Being promotion focused or prevention focused, respectively, was associated with solving more anagrams when the instructions were either promotion focused or prevention focused, respectively. This occured only among participants who had not exerted self-control, however, and not among participants who had exerted self-control.
Using self-control impairs self-control afterwards ((Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice, 1998); (Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998)), likely by reducing blood-glucose levels (the primary energy source for the brain; (Fairclough & Houston, 2004); (Gailliot et al., 2007); (Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007)). It is therefore plausible that the benefits of regulatory fit do not occur when self-control is impaired or when glucose is low, or conversely, that the benefits of regulatory fit occur only when self-control is intact or glucose levels are optimal.
During a mass testing session, participants completed the Regulatory Focus Questionnaire ((RFQ; Higgins et al., 2001)) as an indicator of the extent to which a participant was promotion or prevention focused. Approximately 4 months later, participants attended a separate experimental session.
Participants first wrote an essay for 5 minutes. Participants were instructed to write an essay without using either 'a' and 'n' ( a&n essay) or 'x' or 'z' ( x&z essay). Avoiding the use of 'a' and 'n' was assumed to take more self-control than avoiding the use of 'x' or 'z' because it is more habitual to use ‘a’ and ‘n’ than ‘x’ and ‘z’.
Next, participants completed questions concerning the extent to which the essay required that they override a habit and how well they followed the instructions, as well as a measure of mood and arousal (override, instructions, mood & arousal).
Next, participants completed anagrams. They were asked either to solve every anagram (promotion focus condition) ( promotion anagrams) or to avoid leaving any anagram unsolved (prevention focus condition) ( prevention anagrams).
Correlational analyses showed strong regulatory fit among participants who completed the 'x' and 'z' essays (i.e., among participants who did not use self-control while writing the essay). In the promotion focused anagram condition, participants' promotion focus (assessed during the mass testing session) correlated highly with the number of anagrams solved, r = .74, p = .01. The greater the extent to which a participant was promotion focused, the more anagrams he or she solved. In the prevention focused anagram condition, participants' prevention focus (assessed during the mass testing session) correlated highly with the number of anagrams solved, r = .75, p = .01. The greater the extent to which a participant was prevention focused, the more anagrams he or she solved.
Among participants who completed the 'a' and 'n' essays (i.e., among participants who used self-control while writing the essay), these same correlations were negligible (for promotion focus, r = -.22; for prevention focus, r = -.19).
(Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. 1998). Self-control depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252-1265.
(Fairclough, S.H., & Houston, K. 2004). A metabolic measure of mental effort. Biological Psychology, 66, 177-190.
(Gailliot, M.T., & Baumeister, R.F. 2007). The physiology of willpower: Linking blood glucose to self-control. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 303-327.
(Gailliot, M.T., Baumeister, R.F., DeWall, C.N., Maner, J.K., Plant, E.A., Tice, D.M., Brewer, L.E., & Schmeichel, B.J. 2007). Self-Control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325-336.
(Higgins, E. T., Friedman, R. S., Harlow, R. E., Idson, L. C., Ayduk, O. N., & Taylor, A. 2001). Achievement orientations from subjective histories of success: Promotion pride versus prevention pride. European Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 3–23.
(Keller, J., & Bless, H. 2001). Regulatory fit and cognitive performance: the interactive effect of chronic and situationally induced self-regulatory mechanisms on test performance. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36, 393-405.
(Muraven, M., Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R. F. 1998). Self-control as a limited resource: Regulatory depletion patterns. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 774-789.