Impulse and Self-Control From a Dual-Systems Perspective

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2009 Mar;4(2):162-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01116.x.


Though human beings embody a unique ability for planned behavior, they also often act impulsively. This insight may be important for the study of self-control situations in which people are torn between their long-term goals to restrain behavior and their immediate impulses that promise hedonic fulfillment. In the present article, we outline a dual-systems perspective of impulse and self-control and suggest a framework for the prediction of self-control outcomes. This framework combines three elements that, considered jointly, may enable a more precise prediction of self-control outcomes than they do when studied in isolation: impulsive precursors of behavior, reflective precursors, and situational or dispositional boundary conditions. The theoretical and practical utility of such an approach is demonstrated by drawing on recent evidence from several domains of self-control such as eating, drinking, and sexual behavior.