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Self-Control: Waiting Until Tomorrow for What You What Today.

According to the assumptive framework on which this book is based, psychological behavior is output. Thus, the author takes control as control of output. Furthermore, and consistent with treating behavior as output, the book is steeped in the tradition of lineal causality. It is, therefore, not surprising that by self-control the author does not mean closed-loop, negative-feedback regulation of behavior in which behavior is not output but rather control or input.

Behavior theorists have treated self-control, this book's main topic, in various ways. With the exception of a few who have operated from an overall framework of cybernetic or circular causality and negative feedback regulation, self-control theorists and researchers have clung to lineal mechanistic causality and by self-control have meant a form of unidirectional control by which voluntary behavior is controlled by organisms themselves who manipulate purported antecedent environmental or cognitive proximal controlling variables of behavior-as-output.

The subtitle of this book makes it clear that the author takes the view found in folk psychology that self-control is exhibited when a behaver turns from the face of a temptation (e.g., a piece of cake) to receive future rewards (e.g., a svelte figure). Fundamental is the position that self-control is identified with delay of gratification and is contrasted with yielding to temptation, that is, impulsiveness. With this approach to self-control the book contacts a large literature in behavior analysis, child psychology, personality, developmental psychology, and other areas. The basic preparation used in human and nonhuman research that provides its empirical foundations involves a paradigm in which self-control is a dependent variable tied to the behaver's choice of a larger reward that is delayed or requires more effort over a smaller reward that is less delayed or requires less effort. The alternative choice to that considered to reflect self-control is deemed to manifest impulsiveness.

The first part of the book covers theory and principles of self-control. The author argues that impulsiveness is so readily found because the evolutionary history of organisms has prepared them to discount more delayed over less delayed outcomes of behavior. But self-control does develop in varying degrees without explicit training, and one chapter covers this. Another chapter reviews literature on manipulated variables that modulate organisms' relative choice of larger, delayed rewards and smaller, immediate outcomes.

The second part of the book deals with various specific circumstances under the heading of "Applications." This part covers areas in which laypersons tend to attribute many difficulties to impulsiveness and, conversely, to associate socially acceptable behavior with self-control; these include eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual behavior, exercise, academic settings, money management, and gambling.

Overall, this book provides a useful introduction to a popular conception of self-control by incorporating a wide range of literatures in a readable fashion. However, readers interested in studying self-regulation as an inherent characteristic of life processes from conception to death will have to examine work of authors who have eschewed open-loop control in favor of closed-loop, negative-feedback control (e.g., Delprato, 1989; Powers, 1973, 1989; Smith, 1987; Smith & Smith, 1988).


Delprato, D. J. (1989). A paradigm shift in behavior therapy: From external control to self-control. In W. A. Hershberger (Ed.), Volitional action: Conation and control (pp. 449-467). North-Holland: Elsevier.

Powers, W. T. (1973). Behavior: The control of perception. Chicago: Aldine.

Powers, W. T. (1989). Living control systems. Gravel Switch, KY: The Control Systems Group.

Smith, K. U. (1987). Behavioral-physiological foundation of development. Burnaby, BC: Simon Fraser University.

Smith, T. J., & Smith, K. U. (1988, Winter). The cybernetic basis of human behavior and performance. Continuing the Conversation, No. 15, pp. 1-28.
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Author:Delprato, Dennis
Publication:The Psychological Record
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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