A hot/cool-system analysis of delay of gratification: dynamics of willpower

Psychol Rev. 1999 Jan;106(1):3-19. doi: 10.1037/0033-295x.106.1.3.


A 2-system framework is proposed for understanding the processes that enable--and undermine--self-control or "willpower" as exemplified in the delay of gratification paradigm. A cool, cognitive "know" system and a hot, emotional "go" system are postulated. The cool system is cognitive, emotionally neutral, contemplative, flexible, integrated, coherent, spatiotemporal, slow, episodic, and strategic. It is the seat of self-regulation and self-control. The hot system is the basis of emotionality, fears as well as passions--impulsive and reflexive--initially controlled by innate releasing stimuli (and, thus, literally under "stimulus control"): it is fundamental for emotional (classical) conditioning and undermines efforts at self-control. The balance between the hot and cool systems is determined by stress, developmental level, and the individual's self-regulatory dynamics. The interactions between these systems allow explanation of findings on willpower from 3 decades of research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Self Psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological