Executive functions and self-regulation

Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Mar;16(3):174-80. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.01.006. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Self-regulation is a core aspect of adaptive human behavior that has been studied, largely in parallel, through the lenses of social and personality psychology as well as cognitive psychology. Here, we argue for more communication between these disciplines and highlight recent research that speaks to their connection. We outline how basic facets of executive functioning (working memory operations, behavioral inhibition, and task-switching) may subserve successful self-regulation. We also argue that temporary reductions in executive functions underlie many of the situational risk factors identified in the social psychological research on self-regulation and review recent evidence that the training of executive functions holds significant potential for improving poor self-regulation in problem populations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Executive Function*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Social Control, Informal*