Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Self-regulation failure

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Self-regulation failure:
How and why do people fail at self-regulation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Strategies that can be used to assist in emotional self-regulation.

Self-regulation can be relevant to a multitude of aspects within the body. For example, homeostatic processes carried out by the body can be considered as a physiological form of self-regulation, as the human body performs various functions to maintain a constant temperature. Additionally, the term "self-regulation" can refer to the psychological processes involved in exercising control over oneself, in order to behave in line with preferred, and regular standards.

The importance of psychological self-regulation will vary from scenario-to-scenario. A student experiencing stress, or feelings of nervousness before the commencement of an exam must be capable of self-regulation. Bandura's Social-Cognitive Theory involves the relationship between the person, their behaviours, and the environment (Zimmerman, 2000). Researchers have demonstrated that self-regulated individuals set clear goals, use specific strategies, often self-monitor, evaluate their progress, complete tasks on time, have high levels of motivation and are shown to have skill acquisition (Schunk and Schwartz, 1993). A multitude of self-regulatory processes are seen to influence performance, including goal-setting, self-monitoring and evaluation as well as environmental structuring. Individuals who are highly capable of self-regulating self-evaluate more often, and attribute poor levels of performance to strategy deficiency rather than a lack of ability, resulting in greater self-satisfaction and adaptability than those with low levels of self-regulation (Kitsantas, 2002).

If the ability to self-regulate is vital for a multitude of actions, including high-productivity, increased levels of focus and de-stressing techniques, failure to self-regulate can raise a variety of issues. These issues can include committing of crimes, substance abuse, venereal disease, cases of teen pregnancy, educational underachievement, gambling, and at times domestic violence (Baumeister, and Heatherton, 1996).

The focus of this chapter will therefore look into the concept of self-regulation failure, with emphasis on why and how failure can occur, and how it can be combated.

Self-Regulation Failure[edit | edit source]

Psychological Self-Regulation[edit | edit source]

Psychologically, the process of ‘self-regulation’ and ‘self-control’ are often referred to interchangeably, as distinctions can be made between the two. Self-regulation is often referred to goal-directed behaviour or feedback loops, whereas self-control is more often associated with impulsivity's. Self-regulation is shown to have a multitude of definitions, and can relate to a variety of scenarios and actions.

One view states that self-regulation is the process of exercising control over oneself, specifically in regard to bringing the self into line with preferred standards (Baumeister & Vaus, 2004). The psychological self is not usually involved in regulating physiological actions such as body temperature, but it is often used to resist temptations, or overcome anxieties.

Another definition of self-regulation circumscribes any efforts by the human self shown to alter inner stater states or responses. Furthermore, a regulation of thoughts, emotions, appetites, impulses or task performances. Based on this notion, attentional processes can be considered as a regulated responses.

Another issue that rises in the definitional domain is whether self-regulation should be restricted to conscious processes only. Originally, the field of psychology demonstrated agreement to this concept, but has since moved away and emphasised the importance of automatic or non-conscious processes in self-regulation. For purposes of defining 'self-regulation' it is vital to consider both conscious and non-conscious processes.

Physiological Self-Regulation[edit | edit source]

The human body often experiences physiological self-regulations as well. Various functions occur to maintain a constant temperature, known as homeostasis, if the body experiences overheating or a decrease in temperature, its inner processes aim to return it to its regular temperature. Homeostasis refers to the 'steady state' of internal, physical and chemical conditions maintained by living systems (DeSaix et al., 2013). In earlier stages, children are seen to be working on organising their sleep-wake schedules by reading physiological cues. For examples, if a child experiences tiredness, the body is providing an indication that it requires sleep. This is also shown through hunger cues and elimination cycles, a child will often provide a reaction (e.g. become noticeably unsettled) when experiencing feelings of hunger, or excretion. Each of these signs and cues contribute to the state of equilibrium that must be maintained through regulatory mechanisms (Johnson, 2013).

How do People Fail at Self-Regulation?[edit | edit source]

Society suffers from a vast range of problems that have self-regulation failure as a common core. There are also many additional issue that occur due to self-regulation failure that do not directly affect society (e.g. spending sprees, procrastination, binge eating habits). Theorists including Mischel (1974) and Bandura (1977) demonstrated that human beings do have the capacity to alter their own responses. Over the past two decades, research regarding self-regulation has significantly advanced through the works of Carver and Schneider (1981) and Kanfer and Karoly (1972) have been applied in various areas. However, despite the substantial progress in the understanding of how self-regulation can function, little research has been dedicated to direct examination of self-regulation failure.

regulation failure is comprised of both under-regulation, and misregulation (Carver and Scheier, 1981). Under-regulation refers to a failure to exert self-control, in these cases the individual will often not make an effort to control the self. Whereas misregulation involves the exertion of control over oneself, but the control is often completed in a misguided or counterproductive nature, therefore the desired result is not achieved. Under-regulation is more common, individuals will often experience under-regulation first, and then proceed to misregulation (Baumeister & Heatherton, 1996).

As a result of under-regulation and/or misregulation, a multitude of issues may arise to an individual. Such self-regulation failures may lead to the following:

  1. Loss of control of attention.
  2. Failure of transcendence.
  3. Addictive behaviours (drug addictions and non-drug addictions)
  4. Emotional outbursts/Negative Moods.
  5. Gambling Problems.
  6. Emotional distress.

At a neurobehavioural level, it is possible that such dysregulation may be occurring due to deficits in information-processing, attention, planning, reasoning, self-monitoring and inhibition, most of these involve functioning of the frontal lobe (Koob, 2011).

Why do People Fail at Self-Regulation?[edit | edit source]

In order to avoid issues arising as a result of self-regulation failure, it is vital to understand why an individual can fail at self-regulating. A number of cognitive mechanisms explain how emotionally and socially distressing scenarios can influence self-regulation. A case study by Bowling and Bardo undertaken in non-human animals (rats) demonstrated that social isolation can lead to an increase in self-administration of drugs and food consumption. This is demonstrated to occur due to the sensitisation of the mesolimbic dopamine system to rewards (Bowling & Bardo, 1994). Another case study conducted on humans demonstrated increase activity in the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex to foods following a social distress situation which suggests that a similar distress-induced sensitisation of the human reward system may be involved following social distresses (Wagner, Boswell, Kelley, & Heatherton, 2012). Research on the topic of social rejection provides another mechanism where emotional distress can impact self-regulation. It has been shown that experiencing social rejection can reduce activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex that is responsible for cognitive control (Wagner & Heatherton, 2014).

Figure 2: The Strength Model

Alternatively, Baumeister and Muraven's 'Ego Depletion Theory' or 'Strength Model' proposes that self-regulation is dependent on a limited amount of inner strength, also known as ego, that becomes temporarily depleted after use. This depletion results in a decrease in ability to demonstrate self-control in a variety of tasks as shown in Figure 2 (Baumeister, Muraven & Tice, 2000). Ego depletion is often compared to a muscle. The said muscle has limited energy, and after completing a physically taxing task requires recovery time before it can perform another task at an optimal level. Therefore, similar to how physical exercise can increase muscular fitness, training of self-regulation in domains unrelated to the specific domain being trained demonstrated an increase in self-control (Ries et al., 2009).

Case Study: Self-Regulation in a Web-Based Course[edit | edit source]

A case study developed by Joan L. Whipp and Stephannie Chiarelli in 2004 tested the concept of self-regulated learning by investigating six post-graduate students completing a web-based technology course. The primary sources of data were three transcribed interviews which each student participant over the course of the semester and the students' reflective journals. Content analysis of the data indicated that each student used a range of traditional self-regulated learning strategies, but also showed to have adapted planning, organisation and reflection strategies in ways that were suited to the web-based learning environment. The data further suggested that motivational influences on such as self-efficacy, goal orientation, interest and attributions contributed largely to the success of students in managing the technical and social environment of the course (Whipp & Chiarelli, 2004). Therefore, Whipp and Chiarelli determined that students with pre-existing levels of self-regulation in a typical learning environment were able to carry over their strategies into a different environment to ensure continued success. Despite the change in scenery, self-regulation of each student remained, resulting in the completion of the course.

Self-Regulation Theories and Models[edit | edit source]

Modal Model of Emotion[edit | edit source]

The Modal Model of Emotion suggests that process of generating emotions occurs in a particular sequence. This sequence occurs as follows:

  1. Situation: a situation that is emotionally relevant occurs. The situation can be physical, or psychological.
  2. Attention: attention is directed towards the emotional situation.
  3. Appraisal: evaluation to the emotional situation occurs.
  4. Response: A response occurs generated in accordance to the individual's appraisal, and can result in experiential, behavioural and neurobiological changes.

As mentioned above, the emotional responses generated by appraisals are shown to involve changes in experiential, behavioural and psychological response systems. This emotion generation process acts as a feedback loop from the initial step of the Situation through to the final step of the Response. This feedback loop suggests that the emotion generation process can occur recursively, is ongoing, and dynamic. It is also important to consider that these responses often change the situation that generated the primary response. For example, someone expressing signs of embarrassment after committing an act, others notice this embarrassment and are more likely to forgive the social lapse. Therefore, both parties experience a change in responses to the situation, proving the dynamic nature of the Modal Model of Emotion.

Process Model[edit | edit source]

The process model suggests that each of the 4 steps demonstrated in the Modal Model of Emotion can be subjected to regulation. The process model consists of five different groups of emotional regulation that correspond to the Modal Model of Emotion. They are in the following order:

  1. Situation Selection: alteration of exposure to situations that may generate desirable or undesirable thoughts/emotions.
  2. Situation Modification: alteration of a situation in order to modify the emotional impact it may have.
  3. Attentional Deployment: controlling the amount of attention given to certain aspects to modify an emotional response.
  4. Cognitive Change: Evaluation of the situation to influence its emotional impact.
  5. Response Modulation: Engaging in certain behaviours to influence a generated emotion.
Figure 3: Bandura's Social-Cognitive Theory

Each category in the Process Model is divided into two. These consist of antecedent-focused strategies and response-focused strategies. Antecedent-focused strategies consist of situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment and cognitive change occur before an emotional response is completely generated. The response-focused strategy of response modulation occurs after an emotional response is fully generated (Gross, 1998).

Bandura's Social-Cognitive Theory[edit | edit source]

Albert Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory suggests that environment will contribute to the behaviour and self-efficacy of an individual. The theory states that individuals learn by observing others, with the inclusion of the environment, self-efficacy and performance as primary factors that influence development in a reciprocal triadic relationship, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2 demonstrates that an individual's environment will have an affect on behaviour/performance, and self-efficacy. Furthermore, the performance and self-efficacy of the caregiver will determine the environment in which an individual is raised, demonstrating a reciprocal causal relationship between all three aspects. Therefore, it is understood that an individual who is exposed to an environment with an efficient self-regulating caregiver will likely possess these traits, whereas an individual subjected to a caregiver with under-regulation actions such as drug addiction, or emotional outbursts will continue to experience these behaviours.

Strategies[edit | edit source]

Situation Selection[edit | edit source]

Situation selection refers to the process of choosing to approach or avoid a particular situation. If an individual chooses to avoid a situation that increase the chances of a particular outcome, they are decreasing the likelihood of experiencing a particular emotion. This situation can also occur in a comparative manner, if an individual decides to engage in a situation, they are increasing their chances of experiencing a relevant emotion (Gross, 1998).

Examples of situation selection may include the following:

  1. Parent removing child from emotionally unpleasant situation.
  2. Avoidance of social situations due to social anxiety.

When completed effectively, situation selection can be used as a tool to predict emotional responses to future events, and in turn decisions regarding avoidance or embarkment of the situation can be made. However, an individual may struggle with making accurate decisions about which situations should be approached or avoided.

Attentional Deployment[edit | edit source]

Attentional deployment refers to the process of directing an individual's attention away or towards a situation to alter the emotional outcome. There are a variety of forms of attentional deployment including the following:

Distraction[edit | edit source]

An early selection strategy which involves diverting focus on a situation towards other stimulus. Using distraction as an aversion has been shown to reduce the severity of painfully emotional experiences, as well as reduce neural activation in the amygdala associated with emotional responses (Urry, 2010). Individuals are shown to engage in distractive behaviours when experiencing high levels of negative emotional experiences, as distraction can be used to filter out emotion content that may be difficult to appraise and process.

Rumination[edit | edit source]

Rumination is know as the passive and repetitive focusing of one's attention on distress and the cause and consequences of these symptoms. It can be processed as the concept of processing and understanding the elements of a situation that causes emotional distress. it is utilised in a range of mental disorders, including major depression (Nolen-Hoeksema & Wisco, 2008).

Thought Suppression[edit | edit source]

Thought suppression involves re-directing focus from specific thoughts to other stimulus in order to modify an individuals current emotional experience (Campbell-Sills & Barlow, 2007). However, thought suppression has been shown to prevent only temporary relief from negative thoughts and can carry the ability to be counterproductive, by resulting in the production of further negative thoughts. Therefore, this strategy is often viewed to be ineffective for most.

Situational Modification[edit | edit source]

Situational modification refers to the process of making an effort to modify a situation, in hopes to change its emotional impact. It refers specifically to altering an individuals' external environment to change the physical aspect of the situation, as well as altering an individual's internal environment to regulate emotion (Gross, 2014).

Examples of Situational Modification may include:

  1. Using humour to elicit laughter in a situation.
  2. Increasing the physical distance between two individual's that are demonstrating feelings of anger or frustration towards each other.

Cognitive Change[edit | edit source]

Cognitive change involves changing how an individual appraises a situation to alter its emotional meaning. This is often created through the process of cognitive behavioural therapy, or dialectical behavioural therapy. Reappraisal is a technique often used as a late selection strategy. It involves the reinterpretation of an event in order to alter its emotional impact (Gross, 1998). This allows an individual to re-interpret events in a way that allows them to see the 'bigger picture' resulting in a decrease in physiological and neural responses.

Response Modulation[edit | edit source]

Response modulation involves attempted to influence response systems, including behavioural physiological and experiential. Types of response modulation include the following:

Expression Suppression[edit | edit source]

Suppression of expressions involves inhibiting emotional responses. It entails the conscious effort of reducing facial expressivity and an increase in positive emotions. it has been shown to reduce heart rate, and activation of the sympathetic nervous system. However, current research findings contain mixed reviews regarding whether this strategy is effective in decreasing negative emotions. Additionally, expression suppression can have negative social consequences as individuals often find the formation of relationships difficult (Dan-Glausser & Gross, 2011).

Drug Use[edit | edit source]

Drug use can be utilised to offer emotional and physiological responses. Depressants can be used to produce a sedative effect, the most commonly ingested being alcohol. Beta blockers may also be used in order to affect the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (Sher & Grekin, 2007).

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Exercise can be used as a toll to down regulate physiological effects of negative emotions. Regular exercise regimes have been shown to reduce regular emotional distress and improve mental control (Oaten et al., 2006).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What is the body's process of physiological self-regulation known as?

Homeostasis
Hemostasis
Equilibrium
Maintenance

2 Self-Regulation considers both conscious and non-conscious processes:

True
False

3 Which of the following behaviours demonstrates self-regulation failure:

Addiction
Not Wanting to Exercise
A Messy Room/House

4 Which Components makes up Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory:

Situation, Behaviour, Performance
Performance, Environment, Self-Efficacy
Efficiency, Performance, Behaviour

5 Which is an Example of Situational Modification:

Walking away from an individual who is upsetting you.
Changing your furniture.
Changing your outfit.


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

As previously mentioned, the importance of self-regulation will vary from scenario-to-scenario. An individual that demonstrates successful self-regulation will often have clear goals to work towards in life, understand the steps required to get them there, often self-evaluate and self-monitor their progress and have higher levels of motivation. When self-regulation failure occurs, there is a significant rise in both psychological and emotional dysfunctions. These dysfunctions may occur to an individual at all stages of life. Children that demonstrate issues with self-regulating will often express their emotions in a variety of ways, but usually in an aggressive manner (e.g. throwing objects, hitting, screaming). These behaviours often result in the development of negative reactions from the social environment, which in turn can maintain the regulatory issues over time. If the individual reaches adulthood and continues to struggle with self-regulation, it is likely that they will experience behaviours inclusive of committing crimes, substance abuse, venereal diseases, cases of teen pregnancy, underachievement and gambling addictions.

In order to avoid self-regulation failure, a number of options are available. First and foremost, understanding the concept of self-regulation and the implications it can have on an individual is vital to avoid failure. It is equally as important to determine whether the individual may be suffering from the issue of under-regulation or misregulation. The concept of under-regulation highlights an issue with an individual's ability to possess self-control over most aspects in life, whereas misregulation refers to the ability to have self-control over certain aspects, but not over the desired situations. Once determined, a number of strategies may be implemented to aid in an individual's success in self-regulating. A strategy known as situation selection refers to the process of choosing to approach or avoid a particular situation, which in turn can avoid a particular emotion. Another strategy known as situational modification refers to the process of making an effort to modify a situation, in hopes to change its emotional impact. Response modulation may also be used in an attempt to influence response systems, including behavioural physiological and experiential. Additionally, attentional deployment can be utilised to direct an individual's attention away or towards a situation to alter the emotional outcome.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of self-regulation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 248–287. https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-5978(91)90022-l

Baumeister, R. F., & Heatherton, T. F. (1996). Self-Regulation Failure: An Overview. Psychological Inquiry, 7(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327965pli0701_1

Baumeister, R. F., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (2000). Ego Depletion: A Resource Model of Volition, Self-Regulation, and Controlled Processing. Social Cognition, 18(2), 130–150. https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.2000.18.2.130

Bowling, S. L., & Bardo, M. T. (1994). Locomotor and rewarding effects of amphetamine in enriched, social, and isolate reared rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 48(2), 459–464. https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(94)90553-3

Campbell-Sills, L., & Barlow, D. H. (2007). Incorporating Emotion Regulation into Conceptualizations and Treatments of Anxiety and Mood Disorders. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 542–559). The Guilford Press.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1981). The self-attention-induced feedback loop and social facilitation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 17(6), 545–568. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-1031(81)90039-1

Dan-Glauser, E. S., & Gross, J. J. (2011). The temporal dynamics of two response-focused forms of emotion regulation: Experiential, expressive, and autonomic consequences. Psychophysiology, 48(9), 1309–1322. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2011.01191.x

DeSaix, P., Betts, G. J., Johnson, E., Johnson, J. E., Oksana, K., Kruse, D. H., ... & Young, K. A. (2013). Anatomy & Physiology (OpenStax).

Gross, J. J. (2014). Handbook of emotion regulation. The Guilford Press..

Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271–299. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.271

Heatherton, T. F., & Wagner, D. D. (2011). Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(3), 132–139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2010.12.005

Johnson, A. W. (2013). Eating beyond metabolic need: how environmental cues influence feeding behavior. Trends in Neurosciences, 36(2), 101–109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tins.2013.01.002

Koob, G. F. (2011). Neurobiology of addiction. Focus, 9(1), 55-65.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on psychological science, 3(5), 400-424.

Oaten, M., & Cheng, K. (2006). Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise. British Journal of Health Psychology, 11(4), 717–733. https://doi.org/10.1348/135910706x96481

Ries, R. K., Miller, S. C., & Fiellin, D. A. (Eds.). (2009). Principles of addiction medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Sher, K. J., & Grekin, E. R. (2007). Alcohol and Affect Regulation. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 560–580). The Guilford Press..

Tull, M. T., Vidaña, A. G., & Betts, J. E. (2020, January 1). Chapter 10 - Emotion regulation difficulties in PTSD (M. T. Tull & N. A. Kimbrel, Eds.). ScienceDirect; Academic Press. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128160220000107

Urry, H. L. (2010). Seeing, thinking, and feeling: Emotion-regulating effects of gaze-directed cognitive reappraisal. Emotion, 10(1), 125–135. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0017434

Vohs, K.D., & Baumeister, R.F. (2004). Understanding self-regulation: An introduction.

Wagner, D. D., Boswell, R. G., Kelley, W. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (2012). Inducing Negative Affect Increases the Reward Value of Appetizing Foods in Dieters. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(7), 1625–1633. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_00238 Wagner, D. D., & Heatherton, T. F. (2014). Emotion and self-regulation failure.

Whipp, J. L., & Chiarelli, S. (2004). Self-regulation in a web-based course: A case study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 52(4), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02504714

External links[edit | edit source]