Control Yourself

Kevin Lewis

January 13, 2010

"Does It Take a Village?" Assessing Neighborhood Influences on Children's Self-Control

Chris Gibson, Christopher Sullivan, Shayne Jones & Alex Piquero
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, February 2010, Pages 31-62

Although individuals low in self-control are more likely to engage in antisocial and criminal behavior, few studies have investigated its sources. Gottfredson and Hirschi argue that primary caregivers are largely responsible, whereas Wikström and Sampson contend that self-control is partially a function of neighborhood context. Using data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, the authors assessed neighborhood effects on children's self-control. They found significant variation in self-control between neighborhoods, but it accounted for a small amount of the total variance. In the initial model, neighborhood structural characteristics had direct effects on self-control, but after taking into account individual-level characteristics, they became nonsignificant. Furthermore, parenting variables exhibited significant and consistent effects on self-control. The authors consider the theoretical implications of the findings, address limitations, and provide suggestions for future research.


Building Self-Control Strength: Practicing Self-Control Leads to Improved Self-Control Performance

Mark Muraven
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Self-control performance may be improved by the regular practice of small acts of self-control. Ninety-two adults' self-control capacity was assessed using the stop signal paradigm before they started practicing self-control and again at the end of two weeks. Participants who practiced self-control by cutting back on sweets or squeezing a handgrip exhibited significant improvement in stop signal performance relative to those who practiced tasks that did not require self-control. Participants who did not practice self-control believed that the tasks should improved self-control, engaged in tasks that were effortful and made self-control salient, but did not actually require self-control. Supplemental analyses suggested that only practicing self-control built self-control capacity; the improved outcomes cannot be explained by self-fulfilling prophecies, increased self-efficacy or awareness of self-control. The results may have implications for understanding the development of self-control in both children and adults, as well as clinical implications for treating disorders that involve low self-control.


Humor in the Eye Tracker: Attention Capture and Distraction from Context Cues

Madelijn Strick, Rob Holland, Rick van Baaren & Ad Van Knippenberg
Journal of General Psychology, January-March 2010, Pages 37-48

The humor effect refers to a robust finding in memory research that humorous information is easily recalled, at the expense of recall of nonhumorous information that was encoded in close temporal proximity. Previous research suggests that memory retrieval processes underlie this effect. That is, free recall is biased toward humorous information, which interferes with the retrieval of nonhumorous information. The present research tested an additional explanation that has not been specifically addressed before: Humor receives enhanced attention during information encoding, which decreases attention for context information. Participants observed humorous, nonhumorous positive, and nonhumorous neutral texts paired with novel consumer brands, while their eye movements were recorded using eye-tracker technology. The results confirmed that humor receives prolonged attention relative to both positive and neutral nonhumorous information. This enhanced attention correlated with impaired brand recognition.


Anxiety, Attentional Control, and Performance Impairment in Penalty Kicks

Mark Wilson, Greg Wood & Samuel Vine
Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, December 2009, Pages 761-775

The current study sought to test the predictions of attentional control theory (ACT) in a sporting environment. Fourteen experienced footballers took penalty kicks under low- and high-threat counterbalanced conditions while wearing a gaze registration system. Fixations to target locations (goalkeeper and goal area) were determined using frame-by-frame analysis. When anxious, footballers made faster first fixations and fixated for significantly longer toward the goalkeeper. This disruption in gaze behavior brought about significant reductions in shooting accuracy, with shots becoming significantly centralized and within the goalkeeper's reach. These findings support the predictions of ACT, as anxious participants were more likely to focus on the "threatening" goalkeeper, owing to an increased influence of the stimulus-driven attentional control system.


Shooting behaviour: How working memory and negative emotionality influence police officer shoot decisions

Heather Kleider, Dominic Parrott & Tricia King
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research on police officer shoot decisions has focussed on the influence of situational factors that lead to the shooting error. Focussing instead on the shooter, the present study examined whether working memory capacity and threat-related increases in negative emotionality influenced participant shoot decisions in a simulated shooting task. Following a working memory test, 24 police officers viewed a police-relevant threatening video while physiological indices of arousal and negative affect were obtained and then completed a computerized shoot-don't shoot task. Results indicated that lower working memory capacity was associated with a greater likelihood of shooting unarmed targets and a failure to shoot armed targets. Moreover, an interaction effect indicated that these associations were only significant for officers who experienced heightened negative emotionality in response to the video. Results suggest that when negatively aroused via threat, limited working memory capacity increases the risk of shooting error.


Effect of serotonin transporter genotype on impulsivity and venturesomeness: A preliminary investigation

Seth Gillihan, Geena Mary Sankoorikal, Edward Brodkin & Martha Farah
Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, December 2009, Pages 331-340

Despite the significant associations between the short ( S ) allele of the serotonin transporter-linked polymorphic region ( 5-HTTLPR ) and various psychiatric disorders, the S allele has persisted at relatively high prevalence in the human population worldwide. Based on findings of greater amygdala activity among S allele carriers both at rest and in response to threat-relevant stimuli, the S allele appears to be associated with greater vigilance for danger; therefore we hypothesized that the S allele would be associated with lower scores on risk-related traits. In order to test this hypothesis we assessed the 5-HTTLPR genotype of 81 individuals of European ancestry and tested for an effect of genotype on two dimensions of risk-related behavior: venturesomeness and impulsivity. Results revealed significantly lower venturesomeness and a trend toward lower impulsivity associated with the S allele. We speculate that relatively greater vigilance for and avoidance of danger may counteract the disease risk associated with the 5-HTTLPR S allele and contribute to its persistence at high prevalence in the human population. Replication in a larger sample is necessary in order to confirm these associations.


Stress reduces attention to irrelevant information: Evidence from the Stroop task

Rob Booth & Dinkar Sharma
Motivation and Emotion, December 2009, Pages 412-418

Stroop interference can be reduced by stress, and this has been taken as evidence that stress decreases the attention paid to irrelevant information, a theory known as ‘Easterbrook's hypothesis'. This contradicts more recent theories, which state that attentional control deteriorates in stress. Fifty-five participants undertook a Stroop task under high stress (loud white noise) and low stress conditions. Attention to the irrelevant word information was assessed by manipulating the proportion of congruent trials (e.g. the word RED in the colour red); it is known that Stroop interference increases when many such trials are presented. This effect was reduced when participants were stressed, which is evidence that stress does indeed reduce attention to irrelevant information. This pattern of results was not present in participants with low working memory spans, presumably because these participants had less attentional control. These findings highlight an important weakness in contemporary theories of cognition in stress.


The effect of acute tryptophan depletion on emotional distraction and subsequent memory

Lihong Wang, O'Dhaniel Mullette-Gillman, Kishore Gadde, Cynthia Kuhn, Gregory McCarthy & Scott Huettel
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, December 2009, Pages 357-368

Serotonin is a key neurotransmitter involved in emotional regulation and memory. A number of studies using acute tryptophan depletion (ATD) in healthy subjects have shown that a temporary serotonin reduction both induces a negative emotional bias and impairs long-term memory. However, little is known about the specific effects of ATD on emotional memory. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we investigated the effect of ATD on negative memory and executive function in healthy volunteers. Our emotional oddball task required participants to distinguish infrequently presented targets from distracting negative and neutral pictures. Memory for the distracting pictures was tested 1 h following the fMRI session. ATD selectively enhanced memory for negative distractors relative to neutral distractors and increased activation in response to the negative distractors in the left orbital-inferior frontal, dorsomedial prefrontal and bilateral angular gyri. ATD also induced greater activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate across all stimuli. Stronger frontal activation to distractors was positively correlated with memory performance on ATD but not control days, indicating a possible compensatory mechanism for coping with increased task demand under the ATD challenge. These findings highlight the importance of serotonin in negative memory with implications for mood disorders.


The Today and Tomorrow of Kids

Marco Castillo, Paul Ferraro, Jeff Jordan & Ragan Petrie
University of Georgia Working Paper, May 2009

We experimentally investigate the distribution of children's time preferences along gender and racial lines. We find that boys are more impatient than girls and black children are more impatient than white children. Black boys have the highest discount rates of all groups. Most importantly, we show that impatience has a direct correlation with behavior that is predictive of economic success. An increase of one standard deviation in the discount rate increases the probability that a child has one more disciplinary referral or one more absence by almost 10%. Our results suggest that impatience might play an important role in determining the success of performance incentive programs for school children.


Variation in orbitofrontal cortex volume: Relation to sex, emotion regulation and affect

Locke Welborn, Xenophon Papademetris, Deidre Reis, Nallakkandi Rajeevan, Suzanne Bloise & Jeremy Gray
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, December 2009, Pages 328-339

Sex differences in brain structure have been examined extensively but are not completely understood, especially in relation to possible functional correlates. Our two aims in this study were to investigate sex differences in brain structure, and to investigate a possible relation between orbitofrontal cortex subregions and affective individual differences. We used tensor-based morphometry to estimate local brain volume from MPRAGE images in 117 healthy right-handed adults (58 female), age 18-40 years. We entered estimates of local brain volume as the dependent variable in a GLM, controlling for age, intelligence and whole-brain volume. Men had larger left planum temporale. Women had larger ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), right lateral orbitofrontal (rlOFC), cerebellum, and bilateral basal ganglia and nearby white matter. vmPFC but not rlOFC volume covaried with self-reported emotion regulation strategies (reappraisal, suppression), expressivity of positive emotions (but not of negative), strength of emotional impulses, and cognitive but not somatic anxiety. vmPFC volume statistically mediated sex differences in emotion suppression. The results confirm prior reports of sex differences in orbitofrontal cortex structure, and are the first to show that normal variation in vmPFC volume is systematically related to emotion regulation and affective individual differences.


Delay discounting is associated with the 2D:4D ratio in women but not men

Margery Lucas & Elissa Koff
Personality and Individual Differences, January 2010, Pages 182-186

The propensity to value a reward less as the delay to receive that reward increases is known as delay discounting and is typical of many forms of impulsive behavior. The current study investigated the relationship between delay discounting and the 2D:4D ratio, a proposed marker of prenatal androgen exposure, in 184 male and female college students. While male 2D:4D ratios were significantly lower than female ratios, there was no sex difference in delay discounting and no overall relationship between digit ratio and delay discounting. There was a significant negative correlation between the right 2D:4D ratio and delay discounting in women, with lower ratios associated with greater delay discounting. Results are discussed in terms of the adaptive value of impulsiveness in men and women and possible differences in sensitivity to the effects of prenatal versus circulating testosterone.


Don't stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self-continuity account for saving

Hal Ersner-Hershfield, Tess Garton, Kacey Ballard, Gregory Samanez-Larkin & Brian Knutson
Judgment and Decision Making, June 2009, Pages 280-286

Some people find it more difficult to delay rewards than others. In three experiments, we tested a "future self-continuity" hypothesis that individual differences in the perception of one's present self as continuous with a future self would be associated with measures of saving in the laboratory and everyday life. Higher future self-continuity (assessed by a novel index) predicted reduced discounting of future rewards in a laboratory task, more matches in adjectival descriptions of present and future selves, and greater lifetime accumulation of financial assets (even after controlling for age and education). In addition to demonstrating the reliability and validity of the future self-continuity index, these findings are consistent with the notion that increased future self-continuity might promote saving for the future.

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