Self-regulation is a fundamental human process that refers to multiple complex methods by which individuals pursue goals in the face of distractions. Whereas superior self-regulation predicts better academic achievement, relationship quality, financial and career success, and lifespan health, poor self-regulation increases a person's risk for negative outcomes in each of these domains and can ultimately presage early mortality. Given its centrality to understanding the human condition, a large body of research has examined cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of self-regulation. In contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to specific biologic processes that may underlie self-regulation. We address this latter issue in the present review by examining the growing body of research showing that components of the immune system involved in inflammation can alter neural, cognitive, and motivational processes that lead to impaired self-regulation and poor health. Based on these findings, we propose an integrated, multilevel model that describes how inflammation may cause widespread biobehavioral alterations that promote self-regulatory failure. This immunologic model of self-regulatory failure has implications for understanding how biological and behavioral factors interact to influence self-regulation. The model also suggests new ways of reducing disease risk and enhancing human potential by targeting inflammatory processes that affect self-regulation.
Keywords: behavior; cognition; cytokines; development; disease; executive function; health; motivation; self-regulation.