Self control

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Self-control describes the voluntary inner control of one's own actions. In psychology, the term is mostly used synonymously with self-regulation .

Self-control can, but does not have to be, done consciously . It can already be observed in small children and also animals - when a choice has to be made between a smaller, immediate reward and a larger, delayed reward. Self-control is understood as the ability to delay reward .

The degree of self-control in childhood determined in psychological tests has a strong predictive power for various successes in later life. This effect was shown to be independent of intelligence and social status .

Marshmallow tests

Self-control experiments have been conducted by Walter Mischel and others since the 1960s and have come to be known as the marshmallow tests .

Four-year-old children were given a sweet they coveted (such as a marshmallow ) and were asked not to eat it immediately, but only when the experimenter came back into the room after a short break. When they couldn't wait any longer, the children should ring a bell. Then the experimenter would come back immediately and they could eat the marshmallow straight away. But if they waited until the experimenter came back on their own (after about 15 minutes), they were rewarded with two marshmallows. The length of waiting was recorded and used as a measure of the individual's ability to control himself.

In later longitudinal studies it was found that high self-regulation was a reliable predictor of later academic success and a number of positive personality traits .

Predictive power of self-control

A comprehensive longitudinal study from 2011 demonstrated a connection between self-discipline , conscientiousness and perseverance with later characteristics such as health, material wealth and satisfaction. This effect was independent of intelligence and social status . At the same time, these traits resulted in lower social costs in later life through medical treatments, benefits, and law enforcement.

This long-term study is known as The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study . It comprises data from 1037 people who were born in Dunedin (New Zealand) between 1972 and 1973 and who (so far) between the ages of 3 and 38 have been extensively examined medically and with regard to their living conditions - at fixed intervals. In the previous study at the age of 38, 96% of the participants who were still alive were reached.

Neurobiological basics

The ability to delay reward was examined in humans by comparing failures after brain injuries (e.g. stroke ) and by imaging tests in healthy individuals. A network of different brain regions is involved, but the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) plays a central role. Damage in this area increases the likelihood that an instant, small reward will be chosen. It is believed that this area of ​​the brain is involved in impact assessment or forward thinking.

See also


  • Brian Tracy : No excuses! The power of self-discipline. Gabal, Offenbach 2011, ISBN 978-3-86936-235-9 .
  • David Watson, Roland Tharp: Practice in self-control. Basics and methods of behavior change.
  • Walter Mischel: The Marshmallow Test: Willpower, Delayed Rewards and the Development of Personality. Siedler Verlag, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-641-11927-0 .


  1. W. Mischel, Y. Shoda, MI Rodriguez: Delay of gratification in children . In: Science . tape 244 , no. 4907 , May 26, 1989, pp. 933-938 , PMID 2658056 .
  2. Jonah Lehrer : DON'T! The secret of self-control . In: The New Yorker . May 18, 2009 ( [accessed December 25, 2014]).
  3. ^ Walter Mischel : The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. Little Brown, New York 2014, ISBN 0-316-23085-5 . English: The Marshmallow Test: Willpower, Delayed Rewards and Personality Development. Siedler Verlag, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-641-11927-0 .
  4. Tomasz Kurianowicz: Marshmallow test: take me! Review in November 5, 2014.
  5. Terrie E. Moffitt , Louise Arseneault, Daniel Belsky, Nigel Dickson, Robert J. Hancox, Honalee Harrington, Renate Houts, Richie Poulton, Brent W. Roberts, Stephen Ross, Malcolm R. Sears, W. Murray Thomson, Avshalom Caspi: A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety . In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . tape 108 , no. 7 , February 15, 2011, ISSN  1091-6490 , p. 2693-2698 , doi : 10.1073 / pnas.1010076108 , PMID 21262822 .
  6. ^ Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi, Richie Poulton: A better life thanks to early self-control. In: Spectrum of Science. 12-2014, pp. 40-47,
  7. Review article on the Dunedin Study website: Children with more self-control turn into healthier and wealthier adults. ( Memento of the original from January 13, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. January 25, 2011. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. ^ The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.
  9. Manuela Sellitto, Elisa Ciaramelli, Giuseppe di Pellegrino: The neurobiology of intertemporal choice: insight from imaging and lesion studies . In: Reviews in the Neurosciences . tape 22 , no. 5 , 2011, ISSN  0334-1763 , p. 565-574 , doi : 10.1515 / RNS.2011.046 , PMID 21967518 .