You absolutely enjoy delicious food but you also absolutely want a slim figure? You would love to sleep-in, but you also want to get up early to make your home-work? You have a hang-over and you swear that you will never drink this much again, yet at the next party you drink too much anyhow? And what about this one: You want to quit smoking, you know all the disadvantages of this bad habit, and still, you cannot get yourself to the point of actually stop smoking…
All these topics are related to self-regulation and self-control. Research in the Self-Regulation Lab considers the basic psychological processes that guide self-regulation. In many real-life situations, people hold and intend to pursue long-term goals and at the same time experience immediate distractions, temptations, urges, and frustrations – confronting them with typical self-regulation conflicts. Research in our lab also considers the contextual and personal factors that affect self-regulation processes such as environmental cues, social norms, and personal dispositions.
Our work is particularly concerned with health behavior (with an emphasis on eating behavior) and consumer behavior as prototypical examples of self-regulatory failure – and sometimes self-regulatory success. The overarching goal of our Utrecht research group is to advance the understanding of the psychological processes that lead to self-regulatory failure (as in not acting in accordance with one’s personal goals). We also aim to develop theory-driven interventions to promote self-regulatory success.
Just as a muscle gets tired after performing an effortful action, an initial act of self-control task may cause impairments in the performance of a subsequent task. Thus, self-control can be seen as a limited resource that gets depleted when one tries to inhibit competing behaviors, urges, or desires.
Emotion and self-regulation
Emotion-regulation is a specific form of self-regulation that entails its own specific dilemmas. Moreover, emotions seriously interact with health behavior, a compelling example being ‘emotional eating’, the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions.
Temptation and self-control
Temptations are at the core of self-control dilemmas, because they evoke a conflict between immediate satisfaction and the long-term goal. Temptations influence self-regulation processes and thus health behavior in differential ways.
Planning & Proactive coping
One particular relevant strategy for realizing one’s personal goals relates to action planning and coping planning. Planning helps to envision potential problems that may hinder the achievement of one’s personal goals but appears to be particular difficult without proper guidance.
Self-licensing & Confabulation
Self-licensing occurs when people rely on excuses, also called justifications, to give in to temptations. So, in addition to not being able to control oneself, people can also deliberately decide to (temporarily) abandon their long term goal(s) by employing justifications to license this goal violation. A related field of research looks at how people license goal-violating behaviors afterwards. More specifically, it looks at how unconsciously activated behaviors (for example hrough priming) lead people to ‘confabulate’ reasons for their behavior.
The SelfRegulationLab is involved in several research projects on nudging, a novel approach to behavior change in health and consumer settings. Nudges take advantage of the finding that most decisions are automatic (on impulse or habitual) rather than deliberated while at the same time respecting autonomous choice. Our flagship nudging project WINK, Welfare Improvement through Nudging Knowledge, examines the psychological, ethical and policy making aspects of nudges in decisions about health and wellbeing in collaboration with the Department of Law, Economics and Governance at Utrecht University and the Department of Communication, Philosophy and Technology at Wageningen University. The SelfRegulationLab also offers a master course on nudging, addressing the psychological underpinnings of how nudges operate and design issues in nudging.
Health Behavior Interventions
We have developed a health behavior intervention format that highlights personal goal setting and acting upon ones’s goals by identifying obstacles and opportunities that may hinder or promote goal achievement. The intervention format has been employed and proven effective in the context of diabetes management and successful aging and is now being tested in the context of overweight prevention.